The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) has become a site of heated debate over the Israel-Hamas war, with the festival sparking protests from both sides.

Speak with The Hollywood Reporter On Tuesday, IDFA artistic director Orwa Nyrabia confirmed that “around 10” directors had withdrawn their films from the festival program in protest at IDFA comments. The Palestinian Film Institute (PFI) also announced over the weekend that it is withdrawing from all organized activities at the IDFA film market.

“We respect the decisions of all filmmakers, whether to express their opinions on stage or online or to withdraw their films. We honor and respect all forms of peaceful protest, including criticism of our work,” says Nyrabia THR.

On Monday, the PFI staged a demonstration in front of the IDFA headquarters to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and to criticize the IDFA for its response to a protest on the opening night of the festival, in which three demonstrators held a banner with the slogan “From From the River to Palestine will be free to the sea.”

Nyrabia was captured on video appearing to applaud the protesters.

Many Jews consider the slogan to be inherently anti-Semitic and a threat to wipe out the state of Israel. Supporters of the Palestinian cause see this as a call to end the fragmentation of Palestinian land and the Israeli occupation. Last week, the United States House of Representatives voted to censure Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib over her use of the term in a post on X, citing its “anti-Semitic” connotations.

Nyrabia tells THR He didn’t see the banner and slogan until after the protest and said he applauded another banner held aloft in the audience that read, “Silence is violence,” a statement he saw as supporting free speech.

Following the demonstration, several prominent members of the Israeli film community gathered, including Chairman of the Israeli Film Academy Assaf Amir; Hagit Ben Yaakov, Chair of the Israeli Documentary Forum; and Adar Shafran, head of the Israel Producers Union, signed a letter addressed to the IDFA and the international film industry calling the banner “a personal attack against us” and calling on the festival and its director to distance themselves from “these calls for violence.” .”

The IDFA has done just that, releasing a statement online saying that the slogan “From River to Sea” “does not represent us and we do not support it in any way.” We are truly sorry that it is hurtful to many The festival released a separate statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, as well as the distribution of humanitarian aid and the “restoration of basic services and infrastructure” in Gaza.

But several filmmakers and the Palestine Film Institute expressed outrage that the festival deemed the slogan “River to Sea” “hateful.” The PFI said this would “unfairly criminalize Palestinian voices and narratives” and called on directors to withdraw their films from the festival in protest.

Several did, including Iranian filmmaker Maryam Tafakory, who dropped out of nonfiction Mast-del, posting on Instagram that the slogan “river to the sea” was “an expression of liberation and resistance by Palestinian freedom fighters.” To call this slogan “hurtful” is to be against the end of the occupation.”

Nyrabia reiterated that he did not see the slogan when the banner was unfurled on stage THR “It seems to me that we didn’t initially realize how sensitive it was.” [the slogan] was for both sides. We tried to listen and learn. We don’t want our festival to harm anyone or be unfair to either side.”

The slogan “river to the sea” has been at the center of the debate over the Israel-Hamas war in Europe. Controversial and recently sacked British Home Secretary Suella Braverman suggested criminalizing the slogan in certain contexts. Some politicians in Germany and Austria have suggested classifying it as illegal hate speech. However, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands has confirmed that the slogan is protected by the country’s freedom of expression laws.

Nyrabia says that the IDFA, which runs until November 19, continues to function as usual and that the ten films removed from the program represent only a small part of the almost 280 titles shown.

“We want our festival to be an open platform for all voices, but the polarization of the world has taken hold,” notes Nyrabia. “We have tried and continue to do so to make everyone feel safe and to make filmmakers feel like they can express their opinions openly and freely.”

Despite the controversies and disruptions that have rocked this year’s IDFA, Nyrabia says the aim of the world’s largest documentary film festival remains the same: to be a place of peaceful dialogue and debate on even the most contentious issues in the world today.

“For a festival to be relevant and stay relevant, it must reflect the world, its problems and conflicts,” he says. “That is the price we will pay and the price we are willing to pay. To show what is beautiful and what is ugly. It is a difficult challenge, but one we want to continue to face.”

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