It's been a helluva two weeks for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), what with Colin Farrell knocking up a mermaid, Oprah pushing her weight around, Michael Moore's apparently unintentional irony of buying high/selling low on Capitalism, and Atom Egoyan filming a movie in Toronto that is actually (gasp) set in Toronto.
Woven within what was overall a rather less-than-starry festival (no offense, Bono) was the controversy surrounding TIFF's so-called City-to-City program, which debuted this year with the spotlight on Tel Aviv.
A protest movement led by various film producers, directors, actors and random famous people (along with hordes of anyone-can-fill-out-an-online-petition folks) strongly opposed TIFF's aligning its stars with Israel's largest city. In the midst of it all, a host of very talented and successful Egyptian films were withdrawn from the festival in protest.
The city of Tel Aviv is celebrating its 100th birthday this year (which pretty much makes it the youngest city in the Middle East; nearby Jericho is 10,000 years old). The centuries-old Palestinian city of Jaffa, around and on top of which Tel Aviv was built, is the focus--along with the still-recent Gaza War--of the protesters' lament that TIFF erred in choosing a partner city.
TIFF is standing by its selection of Tel Aviv and is already accepting nominations for next year's City-to-City honoree. Candidates include: Mexico City (built atop the destroyed Aztec civilization's capital Tenochtitlan); New York City (once the home of the Lenape Indians); Damascus (which blighted the ancient Aramaean civilization); Istanbul (which was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul not Constantinople); and Rome (built over the ancient ruins of the civilization of, well, Rome).
Of course, unlike these other historical smack-downs, the Palestine issue is not resolved. The "Brand Israel" campaign--and wouldn't Syria want to develop a "Brand Syria" campaign if the Aramaeans still had a voice today?--seeks in a Toronto marketing initiative to emphasize Israel's softer side, the side very few want to hear about when West Bank settlements are going up every day. Hence, the boycott of Israel's softer side at TIFF.
In related news, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival gets underway later this month. As far as we know, Bono won't be there.