Amidst the cultural and artistic celebration at this year's Hot Docs fest, one local Palestinian rights group is sparking some political drama.
Al-Awda Canada, the Palestine Right to Return Group, noticed that Israel is being featured this year in the national spotlight program, sponsored by several Israeli government organizations. The group thinks it "undermines Hot Docs' integrity" to accept monetary sponsorship from foreign governments responsible for human rights abuses.
"Our problem is that Israel has been allowed the space through sponsoring this," says AAC spokesperson Mughir Hindi. "When you're giving them that stage, you're sanctioning their behaviour.'
AAC is not only against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but also believes Palestinian refugees have the right to return to Israel and to full restitution of confiscated property.
Its quarrel, says Hindi, is not with the films themselves. The Al-Awda statement says it "highly encourages and supports our fellow citizens to watch documentaries with different views. Our democracy is based on dialogue. Further, we are not opposed to the selection of films and directors.'
Indeed, the 12 movies showcased in the Spotlight On Israel program include a critical look at Jewish fundamentalists (The Next War: Radical Zionists In The Holy Land) and a probing view of the wall (Wall, by a Jewish/Arab filmmaker).
According to one local Jewish peace activist who doesn't wish to be identified, occupation opponents are looking forward to the educational discussion that will follow the screening of Wall.
Hot Docs reps certainly aren't about to apologize for the spotlight program. "No sponsor, no board member, no filmmaker, no broadcaster has any say, control or influence over any of the films we chose, including the Israeli Consulate," says Chris McDonald, executive director of Hot Docs.
"We selected a balanced program including films that are critical of Israeli policies. And I stand behind our record of showing films that support social justice and human rights." McDonald says funds from these sponsors - in this case the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto and the Canada-Israel Committee - pay for filmmaker travel.
Besides being concerned about Israeli funding, Hindi worries about sponsorship by the Canada-Israel Committee because it is a lobby group with a "strict political agenda, which advocates Israeli state policies of occupation and disposition of Palestinians."
But Paul Michaels of the Canada-Israel Committee says, "We support the peace process and we always have. We've supported the Oslo Agreements and all subsequent reconciliation agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. We're not a government organization, we're a Canadian group, and we support Hot Docs and we support the artistic achievements of Israel. We're very proud of both."
There is no comment from the Israeli Consulate, as the office is closed this week.
In addition to an apology from Hot Docs, the AAC is asking participating directors and filmmakers to voice their concerns about the sponsorship. They would also like to see a Spotlight On Palestine in a future festival. And to those planning to attend, they suggest voicing solidarity with Palestinian rights at festival Q&As or boycotting.
Mohamed Boudjenane, exec director of the Canadian Arab Federation, says his group is definitely not seeking a boycott, though they do have concerns. "We have no problem with Israe-li filmmakers, but we would also like to see the reality through artwork of what it's like for Palestinians under occupation.'