update deskU.S. News

Arthouse theater cancels screening affiliated with Israeli Film Festival

“The Child Within Me,” a 90-minute documentary about Israeli musician Yehuda Poliker, will not be shown due to threats from protesters.

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute outside Philadelphia, April 9, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
The Bryn Mawr Film Institute outside Philadelphia, April 9, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute outside Philadelphia canceled a 7 p.m. screening scheduled for Tuesday night as part of the 2024 season of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF), which takes place from April 6 to April 14 at different venues around the city.

“The Child Within Me,” a 90-minute documentary about Israeli musician Yehuda Poliker featuring archival footage from his career, will not be shown, according to the theater. The flier announcing the film remains on the listings page at street level outside the arthouse theater.

An email circulating from the nonprofit film institute said, “Although BMFI has always strived to be apolitical in selecting the films we show, public sentiment lately has escalated to the point that continuing with the IFF screening is being widely taken among individuals and institutions in our community of an endorsement of Israel’s recent and ongoing actions.”

Bryn Mawr Film Institute
A listing outside the Bryn Mawr Film Institute showing a screening by the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, April 9, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

The theater was concerned about both anti-Israel protesters and counter-protesters, it said.

Scott Zelov, Lower Merion Township commissioner, stated that since the announcement, “I have heard from many in our community who are angry and upset by the decision to cancel.  I think they’re right, and I believe the decision should be reversed.”

He added that “canceling a non-political film is political and is not neutral. BMFI is a strong thought and cultural institution that should lead, and not avoid certain conflicts.”

In a statement, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and ADL Philadelphia said that even though the BMIF claims that its decision “was made in an attempt to avoid controversy, this action only serves to blacklist Israeli culture, playing into the hands of antisemites who try to deny the Jewish people their voice and existence.”

The IFF, according to the two groups, “intentionally offers a multifaceted view of Israeli society. Each season, carefully curated feature films and documentaries provide glimpses into the intricate tapestry of Israeli life, allowing audiences to form their own informed opinions.”
They continued: “We will not stand by as the normalization of such hate becomes commonplace. Our history is a testament to resilience in the face of adversity; the Jewish people have prevailed against attempts to silence and erase us, and we will continue to do so. This is a moment to reaffirm our commitment to celebrating Jewish culture and Israel’s right to exist in all its diversity and vibrancy. We stand firm in our resolve not to let hate dictate the narrative.

“We urge BMFI to reinstate the screening of ‘The Child Within Me’ immediately. Let us celebrate cultural diversity, promote dialogue, and recognize the transformative power of film in connecting us all.”

A Holocaust-related film with lead actor Anthony Hopkins, “One Life,” is slated to run on Wednesday night as part of its regular programming.

Originally the Seville Theater, “a center of Bryn Mawr community life since 1926,” per its website, the building was purchased in 2004, then redeveloped and renamed the BMFI. It holds classes and other film-related events and has been a venue for the IFF for 18 years.

Opening night of the festival on April 6 showed “Seven Blessings” at the Philadelphia Film Center to a crowd of hundreds with no protests.

A community rally is planned for 6 p.m. at the theater in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

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