‘We can’t be forced inside by terrorists’

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‘We can’t be forced inside by terrorists’

With so many Israeli films in the UK Jewish Film Festival, its' Chief Executive is determined it will happen

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Coming to the festival: Ania Buckstein and Dana Ivgy who star in The Other Widow, directed by Ma’ayan Rypp
Coming to the festival: Ania Buckstein and Dana Ivgy who star in The Other Widow, directed by Ma’ayan Rypp

“They don’t want to be forgotten. They don’t want to be pushed aside. And they don’t want all their cultural achievements to be thrown in the bin.” Michael Etherton, chief executive of UK Jewish Film, could not be more emphatic in his support of the Israeli actors and directors who have films at the forthcoming festival.

UKJFF Chief Executive Michael Etherton

“They want to feel solidarity beyond Israel,” Etherton continues. “To know  people are still interested in what they are doing, and it’s broader than that, because the film festival is about coming together.  It’s an opportunity to express our resilience and that’s a very important message that we need to give as the Jewish community to the wider public.”

The UK Jewish Film Festival is now in its 27th year, is scheduled to begin on 9 November with a gala screening of One Life, starring Anthony Hopkins, the true story of Nicholas Winton’s rescue of 669 Czech- Jewish children.

But following the horrific events in Israel on 7 October which led to the deaths of more than 1,400 citizens and 199 people being taken hostage
to Gaza, the notion of staging a cultural Jewish festival has raised questions – not least for Etherton, who is a strident supporter of Israel and its creative people, many of whom have made the 30-plus films and documentaries in the festival line-up.

Thus after careful consideration and discussion, the chief executive emerges defiant and wants the community to do the same: “We can’t be forced behind locked doors by terrorists. We are Britain’s oldest ethnic minority community and we have to be able to express ourselves and step up… all of us, and that includes the festival.”

On Friday, Michael Etherton confirmed that in support of Israel, Magen David Adom UK will be the charity partner at the UK Jewish Film Festival. And he has been spurred on by the fact “everybody we have invited so far is still coming”. By everybody he means the Israelis too, including leading actresses Dana Ivgy and Ania Bukstein who star in Ma’ayan Rypp’s debut feature The Other Widow.

Israeli star Dana Ivgy plans to attend the festival

“Dana Igvy is the most recognised award- winning actress in Israel and she has been on the phone all the time to us because she is determined to come,” Etherton notes. “She wants her films to be out there. It’s the same for Ania Bukstein. Not one of the film- makers who are our guest speakers has said they’re uncomfortable to attend and I think that’s admirable. I just hope we can support that and be resilient. We just have to be – it’s not a time for the community to be invisible.”


Ania Bukstein wants to come to London for the premiere of The Other Widow
Director Yariv Mozer
Director Rabbi Mordechai Vardi

Among Israeli guests planning to attend is Rabbi Mordechai Vardi who is doing a Q&A following the screening of Barren, his film about a young Orthodox couple’s struggle to have a baby. The UK premiere of The Devil’s Confession:The Lost Eichmann Tapes brings documentary director Yariv Mozer, who will be in conversation with The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, while Israeli director Iris Zaki will talk about her Hebrew and Arabic documentary Egypt, A Love Song, which traces the complicated relationship between Jewish andArab identities and Zaki’s late paternal grandmother, legendary singer and actress Soad Saki, who was a huge star in her native Egypt and across the Arab world in the 1940s.


Director Iris Zaki

With the actors strike still on, Etherton knows SAG members are not allowed to attend the festival, so there will be none of the lead actors for the One Life screening. However, he says, “we will have stars, because lots of the children Nicholas Winton rescued are coming. As much older adults obviously now, but that will be special, particularly as we screened the Winton documentary at the Tricycle years ago and he came with his daughter, Barbara, and Esther Rantzen, so One Life isn’t just a screening, it’s personal.”

Sasson Gabay and Sivan Levy in My Daughter, My Love

An Israeli film, Eitan Green’s My Daughter. My Love starring Shtisel’s Sasson Gabay closes the festival on 19 November in a final show
of allegiance to a country in mourning.“Of course, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. None of us does,” Etherton says. . “But we will do everything in our power to help the Israeli artists be here. Obviously, security is a big issue and we will be stepping it up considerably. Lots more security also means it will be a bit slower getting into films than it has been in the past. But that has to happen because we want the community to come. I think that’s the message!”


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