Seret proves the show must go on at the opening night gala

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Seret proves the show must go on at the opening night gala

Defying the call for cancelling the Israeli film festival has never been needed more

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Left Seret's Patty Hochmann, Israeli actors Sasson Gabay, Raymonde Ansellem, Yadin Gellman , Galit Hershkovitz,Liraz Chamami,Nelly  Tagar and Seret's Odelia Haroush
Left Seret's Patty Hochmann, Israeli actors Sasson Gabay, Raymonde Ansellem, Yadin Gellman , Galit Hershkovitz,Liraz Chamami,Nelly Tagar and Seret's Odelia Haroush

There is always a lot of love in the room at a simcha, but seldom as much as there was at the Seret International ‘bar mitzvah’ on Thursday night.Billed as a celebration of the Israeli film festival to mark its 13th year, co-founders Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann went to town on invites and many of the capital’s Israeli residents were at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho alongside Israeli actors including Shtisel’s Sasson Gabay,Reymonde Amsallem and Yadin Gellman who flew in to support the event and the movies in which they star.

Greeting one another with unreserved joy this was a much-needed launch for a festival that prizes Israeli cinema and television which prior to October 7 was acknowledged globally for its excellence and adapted by producers internationally.

The presence at the launch of Noam Sagi whose mother Ada was taken hostage by Hamas was a physical reminder of the attacks and the pain which is shared by those who were at the reception.

This year staging Seret has been a huge challenge for the organisers.       Held annually in Spain, the Netherlands, India, Germany, Chile and Argentina, this time Odelia and Patty had to battle to be seen. Their host cinema, Cinemes Gironain in Barcelona, cancelled screenings a day before the event began and in in Amsterdam, where cinemas have worked with them for over a decade no longer, the collaboration was no longer desired.

OdeliaHaroush and PattyHochmann, Seret co-founders.

Ahead of the London festival Artists for Palestine UK, a network of artists and cultural workers who advocate for Palestinian liberation, wrote to the Phoenix Cinema, Everyman cinemas in Hampstead and Barnet, and JW3 urging them to boycott Seret. This had not happened, but the Picturehouse group would not work with them and neither would Curzon cinemas which is owned by the US based Cohen Media Group.

Some cited safety concerns or the demonstrations as the reason for pulling away, but like Eden Golan at Eurovision, Seret’s founders had no intention of or ‘skipping a year’ as was suggested. The gratitude for this stoicism was reflected by the applause the hosts received when they gave their welcome, though Patty having lost her voice it was left to Odelia who said: “We have been under relentless pressure and we have had a reduction in permanent donations… but this festival is about the power of culture to overcome conflict.”

The audience who understand and need Seret 

The Israeli actors came on stage where Sasson Gabbay expressed his happiness to be in London, followed by  Barak Ganor, Director of Culture at the Israeli Embassy who  stressed that “the unwavering communication to Israeli film is more important than ever.” Adar Shafran’s Running on Sand then opened the festival.

Chansela Mongoza in Running on Sand

The film about a young Eritrean refugee living in Israel was a good choice. Making his debut Eritrean-born Chansela Mongoza is the refugee facing deportation who makes a daring escape attempt at the airport only to be mistaken for the Nigerian footballer who has just been bought by Maccabi Netanya’s owner (Zvika Hadar). Hilarious and tender, the film is for soccer fans, but not solely for them as it sheds light on Israeli immigration, the plight of those seeking a better life and the racism they experience once they find it. Uncomfortably honest in the way it deals with diversity and prejudice alongside kindness and humanity at a time when Israel is continually accused of lying, this warts n all depiction of the refugee experience challenges those accusations. Challenging perceptions is a feature of many films in the festival which continues until May 24.

On Sunday Sasson Gabbay will take part in a Q&A at JW3 following the screening of Eitan Green’s My Daughter, My Love.  For more information visit:


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