Film festival director reacts to Wellington protests

A fake bomb was planted at the Wellington screening, but director Alex Lee says the Auckland screening will still go ahead.
A fake bomb was planted at the Wellington screening, but director Alex Lee says the Auckland screening will still go ahead. Photo credit: LinkedIn

The co-director of a film festival screening a controversial documentary about the founder of Israel has reacted to protesters who disrupted the Wellington screening of the film at Doc Edge Festival 2018. 

When the film screened at the Doc Edge Festival, anti-Israel protesters from the group Peace Action Wellington showed up. 

Some of the protesters purchased tickets to the film and interrupted its screening. They reportedly brought fake bombs to try and scare the cinemagoers into evacuating. Police were called to remove a beeping black box from the cinema.

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, a documentary about the first Prime Minister of Israel who took office in 1948, attracted protesters at its Wellington screening on Monday. The film features interviews with David Ben-Gurion that were long thought to have disappeared. 

The protesters  said the screening breached the cultural boycott of Israel and wanted it removed from the festival. They described it as "Zionist propaganda". 

Alex Lee, director of the Doc Edge International Documentary Film Festival, told RadioLIVE on Friday the Auckland screening of the film will go ahead, despite the possibility of more protests. 

"I think you're in a situation where positions can be quite deeply entrenched and there are political passions that are quite enflamed. Therefore, it is quite likely that people will take action because they truly and honestly believe in the conviction of their own beliefs," Mr Lee said. 

"We are no doubt going to be seeing some form of action up in Auckland."

Is the documentary propaganda? 

"If someone actually sat through the film they would recognise that the film is an historical documentary and it provides reflection that is given by Ben-Gurion about his life," he said. 

"One of the things that Ben-Gurion says is that the only way for peace to occur is to be able to return the occupied territories taken after the Six Day War. The film reflects on the importance of peace.

"It's from a man who's gone through a lot in his life in the name of his country, but it still provides a view which is quite different from the view that we might have expected from him."

The Wellington screening of the documentary was meant to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel on May 14.

Israel has faced international criticism for killing some 60 Palestinians in Gaza this week who were protesting the United States moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby recognising the historic city as the capital of Israel.  

Israel's First Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
Israel's First Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Photo credit: Reuters

Was the timing of the screening unfortunate or deliberate?

"What happened in Gaza is certainly something that we could never have been able to foresee," said Mr Lee, further explaining that the day of the Wellington screening was chosen to reflect the film's subject matter - the founding of Israel. 

"It was designed to play on Israel's Independence Day because it was about Ben-Gurion and Ben-Gurion actually stood as a person that founded Israel," said Mr Lee.

"Whether you agreed with it or whether you disagreed with it, this is an historical day and the film is tied to that.

"I think art can bring people together by encouraging empathy and developing a deeper understanding. I think it's important for people to be able to watch documentaries such as this to be able to have a dialogue.

"However, the people that came into the cinema should have asked for the opportunity to address, and if that was given to them, maybe that could be done in a peaceful manner."

Mr Lee criticised the protesters' decision to bring fake bombs to try and scare cinemagoers, and said police will be monitoring the Auckland screening. 

Cancelling the Auckland screening is not an option, he said.  

"It's a threat that we need to take into consideration, not only for the safety of the audiences, but also to ensure there is no damage to property.

"We are there to show all sides, all stories."

"I don't think that any documentary festival institution should stand hostage to the desire of a small group of people to censor stories."