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Anger at Israeli movie screening at Melbourne LGBTQ film festival

Activists call for ‘The Swimmer’ to be scrapped, ask Melbourne Queer Film Festival to adopt BDS; organizers concede they ‘can do better’ on Palestinian films

Illustrative -- Hundreds of protesters march in Sydney, March 6, 2021, ahead of the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Illustrative -- Hundreds of protesters march in Sydney, March 6, 2021, ahead of the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), set to kick off Thursday, has been shaken by a row over “pinkwashing”  — accusations that the event was promoting Israel’s progressive treatment of sexual minorities as a way of diverting attention from its conflict with the Palestinians.

Activists have called for the cancellation of a screening of an Israeli movie and called for the festival to adopt a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) platform, putting an end to the featuring of Israeli films at the event.

According to VICE News, the allegations began earlier this month, with Palestinian activists claiming the festival was seeking to promote “an image of Israel as a queer-friendly idyll, and Palestinians as inherently intolerant and backward people.”

The report said the claim initially stemmed from a screening of Israeli film “Sublet” as part of MQFF Together, a smaller festival held in March.

“I went through the whole program and [there was] not a single film from Africa or the Swana region,” writer, filmmaker and community organizer Muhib Nabulsi told VICE. “It was then that I noticed that there was this film by Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose films are held up in academic literature, and by activists, as some of the most prominent examples of pinkwashing.”

Earlier this year, Fox told The Times of Israel that he was aware of the accusations.

But the most recent protests have focused on the planned screening of Israeli director Adam Kalderon’s “The Swimmer,” with activists calling for the event to be canceled.

Organizers of the festival said they would not be canceling the screening, but that they “can do better” in diversifying the content chosen.

They also noted that the festival would be screening Palestinian short film “Borekas.”

“We recognize that we won’t always get this mix of diversity right for everyone in our community,” organizers reportedly said in a statement.

“Melbourne Queer Film Festival has recognized that whilst our program is diverse, we can do better in making sure that the diversity of these stories is being seen by our communities,” the statement read.

“We also look forward to seeing further stories from the State of Palestine, or that depict the stories of LGBTIQ+ Palestinians, at MQFF,” they said.

In the wake of the statement, Molly Whelan, co-president of MQFF, stepped down from their position. According to VICE, which saw the resignation letter, Whelan said their values no longer lined up with those of the board.

Whelan told VICE that the festival organizers “must listen to the voices of those in our community who face ongoing persecution, and be open to doing better.”

“They could start by cancelling The Swimmer,” they said.

According to the report, a second board member, Nayuka Gorrie, then additionally stepped down, also citing the Israeli movie.

“As an Indigenous person of this place, allowing myself or any organization I’m a part of to be used in the propaganda machinery of a settler state makes me sick and sad,” read Gorrie’s resignation letter, according to VICE.

“I too officially resign and call on you all to cancel the film screenings of The Swimmer. It is not too late to be on the right side of history and to listen to your community,” Gorrie wrote.

The report said festival organizers then issued a second statement on the matter, saying that they believed “The Swimmer” did not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, the organizers said that an adoption of BDS would go against their mission “to change lives through the experience of shared stories.”

With the Israeli film staying on the program, activists reportedly plan to disrupt the screening.

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