LOCARNO — The strained mix of art and politics was in the air Friday at the Locarno Film Festival, which stood firm on its policy of being a forum devoted to freedom of expression when two Tunisian filmmakers withdrew their projects from its Open Doors co-production lab focusing on Africa’s Maghreb countries in protest against a concurrent showcase of Israeli pics-in-post showcase organized in partnership with the Israel Film Fund.
Tunis-based producers Imed Marzouk and Badi Chouka’s Propaganda Pictures and the two directors said in a statement they decided to pull auteur Nejib Belkadhi’s third feature “Retina” and animation feature “Aller Simple,” by first-timer Nadia Rais, from the 12 projects in the Open Doors lineup.
They were responding to a call from the Tunisian branch of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, an effort to pressure Israel to comply “with international law and Palestinian rights,” according to the org’s website.
The Tunisian boycott follows a BDS petition in April, when Locarno announced the Israeli showcase. Its signatories included Ken Loach, Jean-Luc Godard and Mira Nair alongside prominent Palestinian auteurs Elia Suleiman (“The Time That Remains”) and Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”) urging Locarno to drop the the Israel focus. The fest did not backpedal and the initial call for a boycott had no apparent effect.
Belkadi’s “Retina,” which centers on a Tunisian immigrant living near Marseille who suddenly has to take charge of his autistic son, whom he has not seen in six years, was among Open Doors titles that had sparked potential interest from buyers at the informal Industry Days mart. Project marks Belkadhi’s third feature after his 2013 drama “Bastardo,” which went to Toronto, and his fun docu “VHS-Kahloucha,” which won the top prize at the Dubai Fest and was selected for Sundance.
“Each person has different thoughts and feelings and we respect everyone’s decision,” said Open Doors organizer Ananda Scepka in a statement. “We strongly believe that Open Doors is an opportunity for exchange and promotion of the rich cinematographies from the countries of our focus. We are very happy that the most of people who were invited to the festival have accepted our invitation to come and share their work.”
At a BDS presser at the fest Friday the movement specified that their boycott call is to protest against the fact that the Israel Film Fund gets financing from the Israeli government. While that is true, the fund is also set up as a non-governmental organization in an effort to maintain its independence from Israeli politics.