Ken Loach and Mike Leigh resign as patrons of London cinema over Israeli film festival screening

ken loach and mike leigh resign as patrons of london cinema over israeli film festival screening

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London. Photograph: David Angel/Alamy

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have resigned as patrons of the Phoenix cinema in London in protest over the venue hosting an Israeli state-sponsored film festival.

The cinema – one of the UK’s oldest – is holding a private screening of Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre, as part of the international Seret film festival on Thursday night.

The documentary tells the story of the attack by Hamas on the Nova music festival on 7 October through survivor testimony.

But pro-Palestine solidarity groups, as well as the Phoenix cinema’s front of house staff and managers, have called on the venue’s directors and trustees to cancel the screening over the festival’s links to the Israeli culture ministry and the Israeli embassy in the UK.

This morning the north London cinema was covered in red graffiti that read: “Say no to artwashing”, and protests and counter-protests are expected there this evening.

Loach and Leigh both independently confirmed to the Guardian that they had resigned as patrons of the cinema.

The directors were previously among more than 40 artists and film-makers who called for a boycott of Seret in a letter to the Guardian in 2015. The letter stated: “By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies.”

In a statement to the Guardian, trustees of the Phoenix said: “The private hire of the cinema by Seret was agreed by the Phoenix board of trustees at a recent meeting. Since hearing disagreement with this decision from some, including two of our patrons, the board discussed the hire again and considered the views it has heard.

“The board’s conclusion is 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.”

The trustees said they made the decision “with an awareness of our status as a charity committed to education through the arts. We seek a diversity of work and voices in our programming and we also welcome hosting a range of private hires which allow individuals and communities to choose their own content.”

They said they knew that the cinema’s supporters, like the general public, “have passionate and strongly held views about events in Israel and Palestine.

“We appreciate that some do not agree with our decision. Despite this, we hope that most people will remain committed to our vision of a vibrant, sustainable and independent cinema in East Finchley for our local community and for London.”

Loach told the Guardian: “‘My resignation as a patron of the Phoenix shows what I think of their decision. It is simply unacceptable.”

Protesters have called for boycotts of the festival over Israel’s military assault on Gaza, leading to a number of cancellations. In the UK, Picturehouse and Curzon cancelled all Seret screenings over safety concerns.

Speaking to the Guardian earlier this month, Seret co-founder Odelia Haroush said she believed politics should be kept separate from culture. “Film-makers do not have to suffer because of the political situation,” she said.

“Most of the film-makers are leftwingers, so you can see a lot of films that actually criticise Israel. It’s not about admiring Israel. It’s just about showing the cultural and social diversities within the Israeli society through film.”

But the Artists for Palestine UK network said Seret was “part of a broader art-washing strategy” by the Israeli state to “whitewash and cover up its crimes against the Palestinian people”.

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