Jerusalem Film Festival Cancels Yigal Amir Movie

Festival directors reach compromise with Culture Minister Miri Regev after she threatens to cut funding - but say critics have it all wrong.

Ari Soffer ,

Yigal Amir
Yigal Amir
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Jerusalem Film Festival has cancelled a screening of a documentary profiling Yigal Amir, the extremist who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The film, "Beyond the Fear," charts Amir's life behind bars, including his relationship with his family members.

It had been the focus of fierce controversy, after thousands of complaints were reportedly emailed to the Culture Ministry. Critics claim the movie "humanizes" Amir, while its creators say it is simply meant to illustrate how Rabin's killer was an ideologically-motivated assassin, and not a madman as some have suggested.

Among other things, the film features a conversation between Yigal Amir and his son Yinon - who was born in 2007, 12 years into his father's life sentence - in which the latter asks him why he confessed to the crime at the time.

"Because I needed to explain why I did it... because... because it's important," Amir answers.

"Did you want to go to prison?" his son asks, to which Amir responds: "No one wants to go to prison... but if you do something like that you need to take into account that you will go to prison."

As part of a compromise reached between Sports and Culture Ministry Miri Regev and the Festival's directors, the screening will be held at an outside location and not at the Film Festival itself - although it will remain as a candidate for Best Israeli Documentary.

Regev reportedly told Festival director Philippa Kowarsky that if the screening was not moved to a private movie theater she would suspend funding to the entire film festival.

"It’s inconceivable that a festival supported by the state would present a film about a vile assassin of a prime minister," Regev said in a statement.

"The bullets from his pistol trampled over the symbol of the state, democracy and freedom of expression. These are sacred values that were violated by the despicable murderer," she said of Amir.

But the minister went further still adding: "In any event, I call on the Israeli public to stay away from this movie."

Film Festival Director Noa Regev hit back, however, accusing the documentary's critics of not actually bothering to find out what the film is actually about.

"Those who opposed the screening of the film condemned the work without having seen it," she told Haaretz.

"We object to a work of art being condemned purely on the basis of its subject matter. Many cinematic masterpieces deal with sensitive subjects.

"Contrary to how it has been portrayed in the press, the film does not support the Rabin assassination. It shows that this is a man who murdered out of ideology and not madness, and in this sense it echoes the ideas of Hannah Arendt.”

She further denied the Festival had agreed to the compromise due to the Culture Minister's "threats," adding that "the decision to move up the screening date came out of consideration for the public’s feelings."

The controversy comes on the back of the ongoing saga surrounding the Al Midan Theater in Haifa, which recently had government funding withdrawn over performances glorifying Arab terrorism against Israelis.