Di­rec­tor fights to air ter­ror­ism doc­u­men­tary on TV

Swedish broad­caster can­celed agree­ment due to Is­raelis in film, says film­maker Bo Pers­son

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By TA­MARA ZIEVE

Swedish film­maker Bo Pers­son is in a bat­tle with Swe­den’s na­tional pub­lic TV broad­caster after it re­fused to screen his lat­est doc­u­men­tary, Watch­ing the Moon at Night, about an­ti­semitism and ter­ror­ism.

The doc­u­men­tary be­gan as a co-pro­duc­tion with re­gional Swedish film fund Kino Koszyk HB, Film i Väst and Swedish Tele­vi­sion (SVT), but the lat­ter pulled out of the agree­ment and has re­fused to pur­chase and broad­cast the film. Pers­son, who made the doc­u­men­tary to­gether with Joanna He­lander, has no doubt that the de­ci­sion was made be­cause four Is­raeli cit­i­zens fea­ture in the doc­u­men­tary.

Th­ese in­clude Arnold Roth, whose daugh­ter was mur­dered in the 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tack on the Sbarro restau­rant in Jerusalem, and Dan Alon, one of the sur­viv­ing Is­raeli ath­letes from the 1972 Mu­nich Olympics mas­sacre.

The hour-and-a-half-long doc­u­men­tary also in­cor­po­rates per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of ter­ror­ism vic­tims from Al­ge­ria, Spain, France, Moscow, Is­rael, the US, Colom­bia, Ger­many, North­ern Ire­land and else­where.

Filmed in six coun­tries, it jux­ta­poses con­tem­po­rary ter­ror­ism, an­ti­semitism and the ex­pe­ri­ences of their vic­tims with the anal­y­sis and views of noted ex­perts in th­ese fields.

The pri­mary fun­der of the film was the Swedish Film In­sti­tute, and film di­rec­tor and screen­writer Mar­i­anne Ahrne, who ap­proved the fund­ing, has spo­ken out against SVT’s de­ci­sion not to screen it.

“I ap­proved the fund­ing of their film while work­ing as a com­mis­sioner at the Swedish Film In­sti­tute,” she wrote last month in an op-ed for Is­rael Na­tional News. “Since then, I have fol­lowed its des­tiny, see­ing it praised at fes­ti­vals and by sev­eral of the fore­most global ex­perts in the fields that it tack­les – ter­ror­ism and an­ti­semitism. But [SVT], our coun­try’s na­tional pub­lic TV broad­caster, has, for some ob­scure rea­son and de­spite the fact it orig­i­nally signed on to co-pro­duce it, re­fused to screen it. And con­tin­ues to refuse.

“With the pas­sage of time and after hav­ing fol­lowed all the ups and downs, I have come to be­lieve that SVT’s re­fusal to show the film is, sadly, con­nected to the fact that among the Span­ish, Bri­tish, Ir­ish, Swedish and Al­ge­rian vic­tims of ter­ror­ism sym­pa­thet­i­cally in­ter­viewed in the film, there are also a cou­ple of Is­raelis,” Ahrne wrote.

The doc­u­men­tary was shown last year in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Swedish leg­is­la­ture, where it pre­miered, as well as at many in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals and in front of au­di­ences in the United States and Europe.

On Wed­nes­day night it was screened at Tel Aviv’s Cine­math­eque with a Q&A ses­sion with Pers­son, and on Mon­day night the same is sched­uled for Jerusalem’s Cine­math­eque as well as dis­cus­sion with the Is­raeli ter­ror­ism vic­tims who ap­pear in the film.

Pers­son has launched a pe­ti­tion against the SVT’s de­ci­sion, in the form of an open let­ter to the man­age­ment of the chan­nel. More than 1,400 peo­ple have signed the let­ter, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Swedish Academy, which awards No­bel Prizes, and the pres­i­dent and many mem­bers of the Swedish As­so­ci­a­tion for Holo­caust Sur­vivors.

“In th­ese fraught and dan­ger­ous times, ter­ror­ism and an­ti­semitism threaten the in­sti­tu­tions of democ­racy ev­ery­where. At­tempt­ing to hide this re­al­ity and dis­tort­ing the pub­lic de­bate is the worst way to con­front th­ese threats when we should in­stead stand up for hu­man rights and Euro­pean val­ues,” the let­ter reads. “We call on the man­age­ment of Swedish Tele­vi­sion to re­verse its gag­ging of this im­por­tant film, and to im­me­di­ately sched­ule it for the widest pos­si­ble tele­vi­sion ex­po­sure in Swe­den.”

In the Q&A ses­sion in Tel Aviv, Pers­son re­lated the mo­ment he be­lieves was the turn­ing point for SVT. A di­rec­tor from the TV chan­nel read the syn­op­sis of the film, he re­called, and then said, “Don’t for­get to show that the US and Is­rael are the real ag­gres­sors.”

“That is break­ing the rules of his own com­pany,” Pers­son said. “It’s very dis­turb­ing be­cause it’s a threat to free­dom of speech.”

“It’s clear that Is­rael is an is­sue for them,” he said, not­ing that the same chan­nel had no qualm in air­ing a four-hour pro­gram fea­tur­ing the views of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. “It’s a farce,” Pers­son lamented.

Axel Arnö of the Doc­u­men­tary Film De­part­ment of SVT has de­nied Pers­son’s claims that the film is not be­ing aired due to po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, telling Swedish news­pa­per Da­gen that it was purely a qual­ity as­sess­ment.

Swedish Am­bas­sador-des­ig­nate to Is­rael Mag­nus Hell­gren at­tended the screen­ing in Tel Aviv, where he watched the film for the first time. He told The Jerusalem Post he found it to be a “very pow­er­ful and im­por­tant movie that I hope many get to see and dis­cuss.”

Hell­gren stressed that the SVT’s de­ci­sion had no con­nec­tion to the gov­ern­ment, high­light­ing that “the gov­ern­ment does not and can­not in any way in­ter­fere in the in­di­vid­ual ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions of any me­dia edi­tors.”

He also em­pha­sized that the film had been fi­nanced by the Swedish Film In­sti­tute, and has been widely screened in Swe­den, though not yet on TV due to Pers­son’s bat­tle with SVT.

He also noted to Pers­son that other na­tional Swedish TV chan­nels would be keen to broad­cast the film, but the di­rec­tor re­sponded that it was a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple and he was “de­fend­ing the laws of Swedish pub­lic tele­vi­sion.”

Swedish Tele­vi­sion also has the largest au­di­ence of all the chan­nels.

“They chose the wrong guy to try to shut up,” Pers­son said.


DAN ALON, Olympic fencer and sur­vivor of the 1972 Mu­nich Mas­sacre, poses in Tel Aviv with his wife, Adele.

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