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London theater vandalized before film fest screening of Nova documentary

The Phoenix Cinema refused to bow to intimidation with a spokesperson saying the venue believed in both free speech and showing “difficult content.”

The Phoenix Theater, in London. Credit: Basil Jradeh via Wikimedia Commons.
The Phoenix Theater, in London. Credit: Basil Jradeh via Wikimedia Commons.

A historic theater in London was graffitied with red paint and “say no to artwashing” on Wednesday night before the showing of a film on Thursday titled “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre” about the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Law enforcement arrived on the scene on Thursday morning but no arrests have been made; some reports hint at the incident being classified as a hate crime.

The screening was part of the concluding day of the Seret International Film Festival (seret is Hebrew for “movie”), said to be the largest Israeli film festival in the world. The spring showings in the United Kingdom began on May 16 and ended on May 23. A new series of films as part of the festival is scheduled to run in Germany this September.

“As always, the program for this year’s festival promises to be varied and fascinating. Audiences can expect to see the best of last year’s feature films, documentaries, and short films, including works by talented alumni from Israeli film schools,” the festival wrote in a description.

“We believe that an independent cinema should uphold freedom of expression and want to show difficult content,” a spokesperson for the Phoenix Cinema said, noting the venue would also support a controversial Palestinian film. “While some of our audience may not agree with this screening, we consider others will be very supportive and would have been dismayed if we had refused to host [international Israeli film festival] Seret this year.”

The Phoenix Cinema opened in 1912 and is believed to be the United Kingdom’s longest-continuously operating film theater.

Filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh told The Guardian that they have stepped down as patrons of the theater for its hosting the festival.

Artists for Palestine UK used the same language as the vandals, calling the film festival “part of a broader art-washing strategy.”

A statement by the theater’s board of trustees said that “for all private hires, including this one, the Phoenix should not aim to censor or veto the content of screenings, provided they are legal and, in this instance, unless we are advised by the police that it would unsafe to proceed.”

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