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The Hypocrisy of Using TIFF as a Political Platform

09/12/2013 11:16 EDT | Updated 11/12/2013 05:12 EST

So filmmaker John Greyson's friends use the platform of TIFF to clamour for his release from an Egyptian jail. Academics, actors, writers and other filmmakers of international repute. That's what friends do for friends, right?

But hold on for a minute. Let's review some of that equation.

Let's first talk about the sheer hypocrisy of using TIFF as a platform, and then we'll focus on working in the field and getting arrested in the first place.

This is the same John Greyson who, in 2009, used the same TIFF platform to make a very vocal protest against the Festival's "City to City" spotlight on Tel Aviv.

And in protest he withdrew his short film, Covered.

Greyson criticized "the opportunism of TIFF, which seems increasingly eager to court dubious partnerships, such as the Israeli consulate's 'Brand Israel Campaign,'" and asked about "the extent of Israeli sponsorship."

A letter of support for Greyson, termed "the Toronto declaration", was signed by 50 people including academics, authors, and filmmakers of international repute. Author and activist Naomi Klein led the charge. In part the declaration said: "The emphasis on 'diversity' in "City to City" is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine's main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population."

On the opposite side, author George Jonas wrote in the National Post "What Israeli film wouldn't be Israeli propaganda for Greyson?" Jonas also argued "To hear [Greyson] object to "state-subsidized propaganda" is ironic, to say the least. As an activist-filmmaker, he has been a propagandist for the values of the ultra-liberal state and its shibboleths throughout his career."

Producer Robert Lantos went on to say that Greyson is "an opportunist eagerly leaping on the 'Israel apartheid' bandwagon in order to garner more attention for his film than it would have ever received had it played at the festival."

And what of the arrest itself? Greyson's sister said that he and his travelling companion Dr. Tarek Loubani, were on their way to a Gaza hospital and stopped at a police station to ask for directions.

In the middle of a country wide uprising when everyone is on tenterhooks.

If you've been in the field you know better than to bring police in on your travel plans unless its unavoidable. Egypt is not Canada. You're in a police state run by the military, John.

I've been in some tight jams in some bad places and had to face some mean cops myself. And I learned my lesson.

His sister says they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe. But you still should have known better.

Academy award winning director Alex Gibney said "Documentary filmmakers go all over the world, sometimes to very dangerous places, and it's important that they do so knowing the international community of artists have their backs."

Wrong. In the field the number one rule is that you have to watch your own backs. Don't depend on anyone.

And when you get in trouble in a war zone don't depend on friends to use a film festival that you slagged off just four short years ago as a place to cry the blues.

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