Venues cancelling and reduced funding: the Seret International Israeli Film Festival fights on

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Venues cancelling and reduced funding: the Seret International Israeli Film Festival fights on

'I don't want to cancel the Palestinian culture, and they shouldn't cancel my culture – culture is not politics!' claims co-founder of festival founded to showcase the best of Israeli film

OdeliaHaroush and PattyHochmann, Seret co-founders.
OdeliaHaroush and PattyHochmann, Seret co-founders.

The Seret International Israeli Film Festival should be celebrating its barmitzvah this year. Instead, the festival, launching its UK programme in May, needs to raise money to guarantee that the show goes on as planned, as a result of the 7 October atrocity.

Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann founded Seret (Hebrew for film) in 2012 to showcase the best of Israeli films. Work on the festival started before the Gaza war – with events scheduled for London, Brighton and Cambridge. Seret now hosts events in Spain, Germany, Holland, Chile and Argentina. Haroush highlighted that this year some cinemas “don’t want to work with us anymore”, while others won’t publicise they are showing the films – meaning you have to book via the Seret website for “private” showings.

This isn’t just the UK. In Barcelona, Spain, the owner of a cinema booked to show films cancelled the day before the start – due to threats from pro-Palestinian groups. The Netherlands festival was postponed from November to March, with two venues, that had shown films for the last 9 years, withdrawing, and potential replacements saying they were afraid to show anything. Haroush emphasised “I don’t want to cancel the Palestinian culture, and they shouldn’t cancel my culture – culture is not politics!”

It’s not even as if this is the first time there have been calls to boycott the festival. In 2019, pro-Palestinian protestors campaigned outside JW3 where a Seret film was being shown, while in 2015 thirty-nine artists, including veteran pro-Palestinian campaigners Mick Leigh and Ken Loach tried to get major cinemas to drop the film festival.

However, this year, the situation is more critical as, many sponsors and potential advertisers have reduced spending. Haroush says “It’s supposed to be a big celebration. and it’s not. A lot of the money that I usually get from Israeli or Jewish institutions went to Israel to support what’s going on right now. So I get half of the money, a third of the money, or none at all.”

Promoting Israel’s cultural assets is not seen as a priority, yet “film is not merely a medium for storytelling; it serves as a lens through which we view culture, offering a platform for dialogue and understanding.”

The Seret International festival is a non-profit venture. To address the reduced sponsorship and advertising Haroush and Hochmann have launched a crowd-funding campaign. The initial target of £10,000 has been achieved, meaning the festival will be going ahead.

A new target of £30,000 has been set that will allow screening in cinemas outside London, with an enhanced programme including workshops, and talks from producers, directors and actors.

The festival runs from 16 – 24 May and you can donate here.  Haroush says any amount – £10, or £13 to celebrate the barmitzvah, will ensure that this year the best of Israeli film can again be seen in the UK.

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