Woods Hole & Palestine
By Chris Spannos at Jun 07, 2010
For over a year, Cinema Politica-Woods Hole has been in discussions with the Woods Hole Community Association-- the group that rents us the Firehouse-- regarding the "concerns" the WHCA has with films regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Given the events surrounding the Free Gaza flotilla (and the local connection, due to the presence of a local woman on board one of the ships), we held a screening of "Occupation 101" on June 4. The following is a letter in response to the WHCA co-presidents' email, questioning why they were not warned of the screening in advance.
June 5, 2010
To the Woods Hole Community Association Board of Directors:
As you are aware, we held a screening of "Occupation 101" at the Firehouse on Friday, June 4. It was one of our most well-attended screenings, with people of all ages filling over 50 seats.
We made the decision to screen this film on Tuesday, given the spotlight on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the IDF raid on the Free Gaza flotilla on Monday. As is the case with any documentary screening, Cinema Politica tries to tie in its programming with events in the news. We felt that showing this film would provide critical context for why the boats were attempting to break the Gaza blockade in the first place.
At our last meeting in January, Catherine Bumpus, Steve Junker, Daniel Cojanu and Elise Hugus discussed the WHCA concerns about showing films with a Palestinian perspective. It was our understanding that your board had not figured out what action you would take on the matter, but it was becoming a problem. While Catherine and Steve did not specifically state that we would not be allowed to show documentaries on the subject, it was clear that you preferred us to not show them. Elise and Daniel made clear that censoring films on this one issue would be unacceptable to Cinema Politica's commitment to providing an outlet for independent voices on a variety of human rights and social justice issues.
The conclusion of the meeting was that the WHCA would try to come to some common ground on the matter, and that attending a few screenings would help the board understand what Cinema Politica is all about. Had board members done so, they would have been able to take part in healthy debate following films on a variety of subjects, participated in positive events like the Food, Farms, and Films Festival on April 24, and perhaps been exposed to viewpoints as controversial as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-for example, about the US government's corruption in Iraq. However, we have yet to see anyone from the WHCA Board at our screenings, save for Jane Vose, a regular attendee. We also never heard from you regarding your decision. In the past eight months we have not shown a single film about Palestine- six months since our discussion.
As for why we did not notify you "well in advance" of this Friday's screening: given that we had not heard back from the Board on its decision, given that its members have not requested to be on our mailing list or attended any screenings, and given the last-minute schedule change, we wonder how "well in advance" we could have made it. Had we notified the Board, we wonder what its response would have been? Would you have told us not to screen the film? Would have you been more likely to attend?
We were gratified that WHCA member Alan Steinbach brought the issue up at the after-film discussion on Friday. As he pointed out, "Occuptation 101" is definitely a one-sided portrayal of life in Palestine, but it does not cross the line into anything close to hate speech. As another audience member pointed out, he felt no need to hear "the other side" in this film because that is the mainstream view in the American media. Almost every documentary film has a bias, but audiences draw on their own experiences and intellect to make up their minds for themselves. Several people said it was the first time they had been exposed to what life is like for the average Palestinian-poverty, house demolitions, violence, and corrupt leadership. That does not make them suddenly anti-Israel, but perhaps will come to mind when they read the next article about another senseless round of killing in the Middle East. And yes, some in the audience were Jewish-one woman who had traveled to Israel last year reported that Israelis are much more aware and critical of the human rights situation in Palestine than we are in the US. From our point of view, no matter what conclusions people drew from the film, the discussion was varied and productive.
We certainly understand the sensitive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the deep emotional response it evokes in people on both sides of the fence. But pretending that it does not exist because it makes some people feel uncomfortable is no solution. Your Board's doubt as to whether the Firehouse is an appropriate venue to debate this issue underlines a severe breakdown of democratic principles-precisely what has caused this conflict to go on for so long.
In the course of the past year and a half, we at Cinema Politica have at times questioned our purpose in holding these screenings. Do they make any difference to people? Is our presence in the community appreciated? Wouldn't it be easier to spend Friday nights focused on beer and popcorn and than to have friction with our neighbors? Last night's screening gave us affirmation that our efforts are not in vain. We have been told time and again that Cinema Politica fills a void for people craving intellectual stimulation and community dialogue. Should the WHCA be compelled to provide the venue? Certainly not. However, we would like to point out the following:
*The Firehouse is owned by the Town of Falmouth and leased by the WHCA. That makes Cinema Politica a sub-lessee from the Town.
*Restricting our group from offering public, by-donation screenings only regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raises a host of freedom of speech issues.
*There will be considerable outcry from the community if we are not allowed to rent this space due to this issue.
We are willing to work with you on the matter, but we are not sure what more can be done from our end. We hope the Board is able to come to terms with its position and the decision it will ultimately have to make. We would appreciate hearing back from you in writing.
Elise Hugus, Chris Spannos, Joe Sullivan Lafe Coppola, Daniel Cojanu