The Sarajevo Film Festival, which concludes Saturday, has been the scene of yet another hard stance from a filmmaker regarding the conflict in Gaza. Late Thursday, outspoken British director Ken Loach gave a speech at the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation Award Ceremony honoring Palestinian directors Abdel Salam Shehadeh and Ashraf Mashharawi, and called for an “absolute boycott of all the cultural happenings supported by the Israeli state.” According to Screen Daily, he added, “Israel must become a pariah state.” Loach further referred to the U.S., saying, “My country, to its shame, follows the bully that is the United States. But we are not powerless. We can act together.”
The Sarajevo festival was founded during the 1992-95 Bosnian War. Per Screen, Loach said: “I know the people here will know the struggle and bravery you need when you are under siege, and you feel the pain of people of Gaza like no one else. These two people are not only surviving but are making extraordinary films.” He called the documentarians “probably two of the greatest filmmakers in the world today, because they are making films in Gaza.” Shehadeh has directed more than 15 documentaries including The Cane, Debris, Rainbow and The Shadow. Mashharawi’s films focus on stories from Gaza and Palestine, but he has also made films on subjects from outside including Slavery In Yemen and The Road To Tawerghaa. The latter won the First Prize in the One World Festival for Human Rights in Brussels.
Palme d’Or winner Loach’s speech provoked strong reactions from attendees. One wrote on the festival’s Facebook page: “We left the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation Award ceremony a few minutes into Mr Loach’s speech, because we were very disappointed. After seeing a movie about the human ability to overcome hate and the wish for revenge, Mr Loach’s opinion seemed utterly inappropriate and imbalanced. For instance, he differentiated between political decisions and public opinion in Great Britain, but failed to make the same differentiation for the (sic) Israelian society. His call to boycott Israelian culture is certainly the wrong answer to the conflict in the middle east. Mr Loach, while a lot of the things you said were true, the message you send is dangerous. We hope that the Sarajevo Film Festival doesn’t share your questionable views.”
Loach has a history of supporting Palestine and is understood to be a member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Last year, he told New Internationalist magazine: “Israel presents itself to the world as a democracy. A country just like every Western state. It presents itself in this way while it is in fact committing crimes against humanity. It has produced a State which is divided along racial lines, like apartheid South Africa. It is also supported militarily and financially by Europe and the U.S. So there is a massive hypocrisy going on; we are supporting a country that claims to be a democracy, we’re supporting it in every way, and yet, it is involved in these crimes against humanity.”
Shehadeh and Mashharawi shared a £7,000 prize from Sarajevo, but Loach said air strikes had stopped Shehadeh from traveling from the Gaza border city of Rafah to attend the event, Reuters reported.