Several filmmakers, arts workers, and cultural organizations are boycotting the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), citing alleged institutional censure of the Palestinian liberation movement. Over 700 people have signed a petition decrying IDFA organizers’ response to a protest in support of Palestine that occurred during the opening ceremony.
The Palestine Film Institute in Ramallah and at least seven artists and filmmakers — Terra Long, Sky Hopinka, Jumana Manna, Basma al-Sharif, Miko Revereza, Maryam Tafakory, and Charlie Shackleton — have publicly withdrawn their participation in the world’s largest international documentary film festival.
The controversy began on November 8, when three protesters displayed a banner with the Palestinian protest slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during a talk by the festival’s Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia. Two days later, the IDFA and Nyrabia published a statement in response to the action apologizing to any festival goers who may have been affected by the banner’s “hurtful slogan” during the opening night action.
The chant “From the river to the sea” has long been the source of debate. While some argue that it refers to the extermination of Israel’s Jewish population, many others have shown that the phrase is “a rejoinder to the fragmentation of Palestinian land and people by Israeli occupation and discrimination,” as argued by scholar Yousef Munayyer. Last week, the United States House of Representatives voted to censure Palestinian-American Congressperson Rashida Tlaib for her use of the phrase in a post on X, citing its purportedly “antisemitic” connotations.
“That slogan does not represent us, and we do not endorse it in any way,” the organizers of the IDFA asserted in their November 10 response. That same day, the festival released another statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine as well as the distribution of humanitarian aid and “restoration of basic services and infrastructure” in Gaza, where Israeli forces have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians following the October 7 Hamas attack that killed approximately 1,200 Israelis.
IDFA has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Citing the IDFA organizers’ condemnation of the “From the river to the sea” slogan, which is protected as freedom of speech under Dutch law, the Palestine Film Institute (PFI) and advocacy group Workers for Palestine Netherlands announced their official withdrawal from the festival activities yesterday, November 12. The groups also criticized the IDFA’s “belated” call for a ceasefire.
“While recognizing the attendance of many, we, as programmers, filmmakers, and audience members, assert our refusal to collaborate with a festival engaged in institutional violence and censorship,” the two organizations wrote in a joint statement, urging other festival participants to support the IDFA boycott through signing onto a petition, utilizing film events like panels and question-and-answer sessions for advocacy, in addition to requesting ticket refunds.
In addition to filmmakers, IDFA staffers have also voiced their concern over the festival organizers’ response to the opening ceremony demonstration. An employee who asked to remain anonymous told Hyperallergic that while there is a “multiplicity of opinions” within the IDFA, many festival workers were “distressed” by the organization’s statement.
The IDFA issued a third statement yesterday reiterating the festival’s commitment to inclusivity and free expression, and emphasizing the event’s commitment to serving as an “open platform.”
But representatives of the advocacy group Workers for Palestine Netherlands told Hyperallergic that they view the “neutrality” of the festival’s statement as a form of “complicity.” This afternoon, November 13, members of the advocacy group joined PFI, filmmakers, cultural workers, and other dissidents outside Amsterdam’s Internationaal Theater to continue protesting the film festival.
Artist and filmmaker Jumana Manna, who withdrew Blessed Blessed Oblivion (2010) from screening in the Corresponding Cinemas program, called IDFA’s response to the November 8 demonstration “a breach of trust for the community of filmmakers who attend and participate in the festival” in a statement to Hyperallergic.
“We have seen how cultural institutions across the West are being put under immense pressure by funders and people in power, but we expected IDFA to do better than issue a statement that throws activist voices under the bus,” Manna said.
Editor’s note 11/13/23 7:08pm EST: A previous version of this article featured a photograph of IDFA participants holding a banner expressing their solidarity with Palestine. Citing threats of doxxing and harassment, Workers for Palestine Netherlands requested that the image be removed. Hyperallergic complied with this request.