South African Filmmaker withdraws from Israeli Film Festival

28 May 2017


Respecting the Palestinian BDS boycott of Israel, award-winning South African film director, John Trengove, has withdrawn from the upcoming Israeli LGBT Tel Aviv film festival​ ​and requested that his​ ​​feature​ film, The Wound, not be screened at the festival’s opening night gala​.


Trengove​’s controversial feature, The Wound (Inxeba)​ ​which is set in the context of the Xhosa circumcision initiation​ ritual, premiered in Sundance and Berlin film festivals this year​​ ​and is set to open in South African cinemas later​ ​​in 2017.​ ​​Trengove, who is the son of well-known advocate Wim Trengove,​ is also a Loerie, SAFTA and Rose d’Or recipient, and was​ ​nominated for an International Emmy for his acclaimed miniseries Hopeville.​ ​


Last week BDS South Africa, among others, including several South African pro-BDS Jewish film makers had engaged with Trengove urging him not to participate in the festival. One of the issues raised was Israel’s use of “Pinkwashing” – an Israeli PR tactic that cynically exploits support for LGBT people to cover up its crimes against the Palestinian people and normalize its occupation, oppression and apartheid policies. In addition, activists pointed out that the Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev would be present for the festival. Regev has previously compared Africans as a cancer in society.


Palestinian civil society has “warmly” welcomed his withdrawal thanking Trengove for his “principled solidarity” and respect of the Palestinian “picket line”. Following his cancellation, a representative from PACBI, Hind Awwad, called on others to follow suit: “We hope international artists follow his lead and cancel their participation, denying the Israeli government an opportunity to use their name to cover-up and pink wash its crimes.”


Trengove wrote a moving letter (copied below) to Israeli organizers explaining his decision:


It is with sincere regret that I have to inform you that I will not be attending TL​V​fest next week. In the last few days I have been approached by activist organizations as well as members of the South African film community​,​ urg​ing​ me to respect the cultural boycott against Israel, and specifically TLVfest​.​ With the pain of the Apartheid struggle still fresh in our collective consciousness, the issue is, as you can imagine, a very sensitive one for many South Africans​.​

The issue of pink washing has also been underscored to me. While I appreciate that the organizers ​of TLVfest ​may be well intentioned and progressive, it is impossible to look past the fact that the festival (and my participation in it) could serve as a diversion from the human rights violations being committed by the state of Israel.

I understand that it is very late for me to make such a decision, and for this I am sincerely sorry. It is out of naivety, and a desire for my film and the human issues it promotes to be seen as far and wide as possible, that I accepted your invitation several weeks ago. Unfortunately, knowing what I now know, I feel it is imperative that I withdraw myself from attending.

I also understand that the film has already been sold, not just for screening but also for Israeli distribution. ​I therefore accept that t​his is a situation that is out of my hands​,​ though my wish is that the film not be shown in Israel while current conditions persist.

I hope that you will accept my decision in the spirit that it is intended, which is not a personal attack on you or your team, but motivated by realisation of what deeply personal and political convictions require of me.


​In a follow up letter to the festival he wrote:​


Let me reiterate that I have no doubt that your festival is a progressive and open-minded one. I have however come to believe that as long as current circumstances in Israel prevail, a rigorous boycott against ALL government funded initiatives is necessary. If nothing else, they are a way to signal to Israelis that the international community cannot condone what is being done in their name. As a South African, I have first hand experience of how boycotts helped bring about democratic transformation and therefore have decided to add my name and voice to the boycott Israel initiative.


Following the letter, Ronnie Barkan, co-founder of the Israeli group “Boycott From Within”, wrote to Trengove saying: “As an Israeli citizen, I would like to express my deepest appreciation and thanks for your taking a stand and for the wonderful letter that you have shared with us.”


We join other peace and justice loving South Africans in thanking Trengove who now joins a growing list of international artists, filmmakers, authors and others who have cancelled Israeli gigs and respected the Palestinian BDS call including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Professor Stephen Hawking, musicians Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, authors Alice Walker, and Angela Davis, film makers Mira Nair, John Greyson, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and others.