Organizers of the Israel Film Festivals in Montreal and Toronto have been advised that the Cineplex Theatre chain will no longer provide venues for the event.
While expressing his disappointment to me, Festival Director Eran Bester did have some good news. The competing Cinemas Guzzo chain has agreed to host the next Montreal event, April 21 to 25 at their centrally located Spheretech location in St. Laurent. The Toronto edition takes place in October and Bester already has some committee members seeking a new site.
For eight years the Montreal festival had been held at the downtown Pepsi Forum, which Cineplex recently purchased from AMC. The Toronto home was the Cineplex Sheppard Grande. Pat Marshall, Cineplex’s vice president of communications and investor relations, cited several concerns and scheduling difficulties when I reached her in Toronto.
“We initially decided to take the high road and focus on the fact it was difficult for us to give up screens for a week,” Marshall said. “This is true. But we have received a lot of troubling messages from people who are accusing us of being anti-Israel. That could not be further from the truth.”
Marshall emphasizes that Cineplex’s CEO and president Ellis Jacob is Jewish. Last year he co-chaired a Jewish National Fund Negev Dinner which raised over $5 million. Cineplex theatres will continue to host the Toronto and Windsor Jewish Film Festivals, while sponsoring organizations such as the Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum and the Walk for Israel.
Mert Inal, Cineplex’s senior marketing manager for partnerships and sponsorships, notes that giving up screens for a film festival “is always a challenge for us as it becomes almost an impossibility to program certain regular films that open one to two weeks prior to, during or sometimes one week after a festival takes place. When film studios cannot book films on our screens because of a film festival, they obviously need to book their films elsewhere, in which case we're usually faced with a significant opportunity cost of not running these films, not to mention the friction this causes between our Film department and the studios during our weekly film booking meetings.”
Inal did say that Cineplex has established some long term relationships with certain film festivals on a rental and sponsorship value exchange basis and will continue to serve as their host for 2013
Bester started the festivals eight years ago when he was based in Montreal for an Israeli company. “I saw that most of the news out of Israeli had to do with the conflict,” he said. “I decided what better way to tell our story than through film. There are other community organizations which have Israeli Film Festivals, but none as thorough as ours."
Bester lives in Israel now, but travels back and forth to Montreal and Toronto a few times a year.
For more information go to www.israelfilmfestival.ca.