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September 1, 2022 1:34 pm
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South African International Film Festival Reverses Boycott Decision, Screens Israeli Film

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A South African flag. Photo: Achim Raschka via Wikimedia Commons.

A prestigious international film festival in South Africa showcased a short by an Israeli filmmaker following its boycott last year of a film by another director from Israel.

The 43rd Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) screened the short film “His Best Friend,” written and directed by Oz Zirlin. In the 15-minute Hebrew language movie, Zirlin recreates the day his best friend committed suicide in scenes reenacted with help from family and friends of the deceased.

Benji Shulman, director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), welcomed DIFF’s decision to screen the movie, saying that the festival had “abandoned its ill-conceived boycott against Israeli films,” in a statement to The Algemeiner.

“Over the past year, the SAZF has worked extensively with members of the cultural community to ensure that the basic rights of freedom of expression and association are protected in our country. We’re happy that these rights have been restored to DIFF this year,” Shulman added.

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DIFF, which was held from July 21-30, is organized by the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

CAA, the festival organizer, said in a statement on its website that it “upholds freedom of expression and freedom of creativity as guaranteed in Section 16 of the South African Constitution.”

The festival’s management told the South African Jewish Report Zirlin’s film was chosen to be included in the student film festival by DIFF’s “independent team of curators and programmers.”

The decision comes a year after DIFF refused to screen a movie by filmmaker Yakie Ayalon, who was born in Jerusalem and raised in Nigeria, because of his Israeli roots.

DIFF’s management said in a statement at the time, “We decided not to screen any films produced and funded by the Israeli apartheid state and its complicit institutions. Our deeply-held principles include the firm commitment to freedom of artistic expression.”

Ayalon applauded the festival’s change of heart this year by allowing Zirlin’s film to be screened. He told the South African Jewish Report, “I’m happy to see that the festival changed its policy and accepted a film directed by an Israeli this year. I’m glad that DIFF reached the understanding that targeting individual filmmakers isn’t the answer, since boycotting an individual filmmaker is itself an act of violence.”

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