The Israeli government is boycotting the opening of a Paris film festival it helped fund, out of anger that organizers chose a controversial movie centering on the Israeli military as the event’s headliner.
Samuel Maoz’s “Foxtrot,” which explores grief and military duty among three generations of an Israeli family, is set to open the Israeli Film Festival in Paris on March 13. The film earned the Grand Jury Prize in Venice, swept Israel’s Ophir Awards – the Jewish state’s equivalent of the Academy Awards – and was shortlisted for the Oscar for best foreign-language film before falling short of this year’s list of five nominees.
Despite widespread critical acclaim and a North American distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics, “Foxtrot” has proven to be a bugbear of Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, who has repeatedly denounced the film over a controversial scene in which the Israeli military covers up the deaths of a carload of Palestinian teenagers.
Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has been outspoken on social media about her disgust for the film, which she admits to having never watched in full. After its triumph at Venice, she wrote on Facebook, “When an Israeli film wins an international prize, the heart fills with pride and my natural desire is to strengthen and encourage the Israeli success….This rule has one exception – when the international embrace is the result of self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.”
Maoz, as well as the film’s leading man, Lior Ashkenazi, have been accused of being traitors and anti-government agents in a flurry of online posts following Regev’s denunciations. Maoz says that he has been threatened with acid attacks in posts that listed his private home address, and Ashkenazi’s 5-year-old daughter was even the subject of death threats.
Regev has refused to back down, publicly rejoicing when “Foxtrot” failed to earn an Oscar nomination last month and telling Israel Radio: “I think the decision saved us from bitter disappointment and prevented an untruthful worldwide representation of the Israeli army.”
The Israeli Film Festival in Paris is run by the French film association Kolnoah (the Hebrew word for “cinema”). In addition to a stipend from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, it receives backing from the Israeli Film Fund, the Israeli Film Council and a handful of French-Jewish organizations.
It is too late for the Israeli Foreign Ministry to withdraw the funding it has already provided for the 2018 festival, but the decision to headline the festival with “Foxtrot” is likely to have an impact on discussions for funding in 2019 and beyond.
The Israeli government’s decision to boycott the festival’s opening night comes after the Israel’s ambassador to France, Aliza Ben-Nun, asked organizers to pull “Foxtrot” from the lineup and was rebuffed.
Maoz says that, while the government’s dissatisfaction with his film has earned him a significant amount of press, it saddens him as an Israeli. “Every humanistic society should strive to be better, to improve itself,” he told Variety. “And the basic and necessary condition for improvement is the ability to accept self-criticism.”