Against a backdrop of increasing tension over the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the 11th Israeli Film Festival and the 14th Arab Film Festival will overlap during the last two weeks of August.
Each festival can expect to be surrounded by controversy, with activist groups from across the political spectrum likely organising protests to contest both.
Following an Anti-Ramadan protest organised by the far-right Party for Freedom at Marrickville Woolworths last weekend, concerns have been voiced that similarly minded right wing parties would demonstrate against the Arab Film Festival.
City Hub was told the Party For Freedom and the Australia First Party were organising protests against the film festival, however both organisations have denied this.
The sentiment of opposition to Muslim culture being expressed in Sydney that was evident at last week’s Marrickville protests has led members of the public to be concerned about other far-right groups being emboldened to protest the festival when it arrives in Sydney later this month.
The Party for Freedom and Australia First Party’s express anti-Muslim sentiment in recent weeks has also led to concerns about the freedom with which Arabic culture can be celebrated in inner Sydney.
Ghada Daher, conductor of the Andulas Arabic Choir, said the Arab Film Festival and other cultural events are important ways to celebrate Arabic culture in Sydney, but that more has to be done.
“Multicultural events from councils and other efforts such as the Arab Film Festival are great to promote a positive picture of the Arabic culture and showcase its richness and creativity,” she said.
“It would also help to have more programs or schemes from the government to fund music performances projects. What is available at the moment is not enough and does not cater for small organisations.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also said the festival is an important way to project positive reflections of Arabic culture in Sydney.
“The Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) provided a grant to Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) in support of the 2014 Arab Film Festival, and has supported the festival for a number of years.
“The Arab Film Festival is a good example of a community event that promotes mutual understanding and projects contemporary images of Arab society.”
Tension also surrounds the Israeli Film Festival, however in this case it is for reasons of political activism rather than anti-multicultural sentiment.
The Israeli Film Festival’s public relations campaign began shortly following the Israeli military’s invasion of Gaza on July 17, with the festival due to begin in Sydney on August 21.
City Hub has been told by activist groups Jews Against The Occupation and the Palestine Action Group that they will be protesting the decision to allow the Israeli Film Festival to take place in Sydney.
“This festival, as a part of the Australia Israel Culture Exchange, is part of an effort to strengthen relations between Australia and Israeli. This is precisely the opposite of what Australia’s response to Israel should be at this time, and we strongly protest the festival on these grounds,” said Rebecca Hyman, spokesperson for the Palestine Action Group.
“We plan to boycott the festival as part of the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) action. BDS calls on the public to boycott any organisation, event or company connected to the Israeli state, which includes cultural events such as this film festival.”
Ms Hyman said the Palestine Action Group was planning to convene in the near future to discuss organised action in protest of the festival.
A spokesperson for Jews Against The Occupation echoed this sentiment.
“We protest the festival on the basis that Sydney should not be promoting the Israel state, its military actions or its culture in any way.
“Sydney should condemn Israel for the war crimes it is currently committing and allowing this festival to take place sends precisely the opposite message,” she said.
Israeli Film Festival curator Keith Lawrence said the festival was not intended to be a political event.
“The festival is about sharing the stories that come out of Israel – it is not meant to be political.”
Mr Lawrence says he is confident the festival would still get a positive response this year.
The Arab Film Festival opens at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre with the film When I Saw You. The Israeli Film Festival opens with film Self Made. (LOC)
Arab Film Festival, Aug14-17, Riverside Theatres Parramatta, $15-85 (marathon package), arabfilmfestival.com.au; Israeli Film Festival, Aug 21-Sep 4, Palace Norton St & Palace Verona, $15-140 (10 film pass), aiceisraelifilmfestival.com