Jewish Film Fesitval postponement amid safety concerns sparks controversy in Hamilton

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Published March 20, 2024 at 12:40 pm

Hamilton’s Jewish Film Festival has been indefinitely postponed amid safety concerns.

The sixth annual festival was meant to screen at The Playhouse Cinema in April. The cinema and the Hamilton Jewish Federation had been working on the festival since December with the goal to “bring relevant and thought-provoking feature films and documentaries to engage the broadest spectrum of the Jewish community, as well as provide an opportunity for the greater Hamilton community to learn about Jewish culture, Israel and Jewish history.”

The Playhouse was set to screen films about the Ukrainian War (Hope without Boundaries) and communist Poland (March 1968) as well as several contemporary Israeli and French dramas.

The federation described the films, “The six films included in this year’s Hamilton Jewish Film Festival, produced in France, Poland and Israel, represent the contemporary Jewish experience, whether they relate to the prevalence of Holocaust denial in the thriller, The Man in the Basement; the reality of co-existence explored by an Israeli filmmaker while shampooing clients in an Arab-owned hair salon in Haifa; a love story set in communist-era Poland amidst antisemitic purges; a coming of age story set in a shelter for at-risk youth; or the last film of an Israeli filmmaker murdered on Oct. 7 on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, that captures the challenges of life along the Israel-Gaza border.”

However, the cinema announced it had postponed the Federation’s rental amid security threats. “After receiving numerous security and safety related emails, phone calls, and social media messages, the Playhouse Cinema reached a difficult decision to postpone the Hamilton Jewish Federation’s venue rental,” they wrote.

“The Playhouse Cinema’s mission is to be a welcome home to a variety of cultural groups, serving the Hamilton area through our film programming, and in offering our venue for rent,” they continued.

Throughout the development of the festival, the cinema noted a positive working environment with the Jewish Federation. However, that relationship now seems to have eroded.

“The Hamilton Jewish Federation is outraged by the recent decision made by the Playhouse Cinema to backtrack on its commitment to host the 2024 Hamilton Jewish Film Festival after the theatre received a small number of complaints and threatening emails objecting to the fact that Israeli films are included in this year’s line-up,” the Federation wrote.

“The decision, coming just weeks before the scheduled event, is a lost opportunity to engage the Greater Hamilton community in a Jewish cultural event during the highest rise of antisemitism we’ve seen in recent history, and in the aftermath of the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust,” they continued.

The “bloodiest day” the Federation referred to is a reference to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. During this attack, militants flooded over the Israeli barricade around the Gaza Strip and Israeli homes, events and military targets.

Hamas, which is a designated terrorist group, killed more than 1,100 Israelis during the attack. Israel responded with an aerial bombardment of Gaza, followed by a ground offensive, which has killed nearly 32,000 Palestinians. 

Since the conflict began, violence and hate crimes rose quickly around the world. On Nov. 23, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said there were 323 reported hate crimes so far in 2023. This is a 45 per cent increase from the 224 incidents reported in 2022.

Of these, 129 were reported as anti-Semitic hate crimes and 34 were reported as Islamophobic hate crimes. A full quarter were reported in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack. In 2024, Dimkiw said Toronto has seen 84 hate crimes so far, 56 per cent of which were anti-Semitic.

Hamilton Police have not provided similar statistics despite inthehammer’s requests. However, they did confirm they are investigating the Playhouse Theatre’s reports of threats.

Even local MP Filomena Tassi weighed in saying she was “disappointed” in the postponement and called it “another example of the Jewish community facing terrible threats and intimidation. Jewish heritage in Canada should be celebrated not silenced.”

“In withdrawing its support of a Jewish film festival based on outrageous claims by a few individuals that any film produced in Israel is a form of ‘Zionist propaganda,’ the Playhouse Cinema is prioritizing the will of antisemites over an apolitical cultural festival that stands for artistic excellence and integrity,” the Federation concluded.

The festival will proceed this spring at the Hamilton Jewish Federation’s own facilities at an unknown date.

 

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