Ultra-orthodox director bans men from London Israeli film festival screening

Complaints after Haredi film-maker Rechy Elias states screening of her drama Gift of Fire must be for women only

The Guardian, UK/June 11, 2015

By Ben Child

An ultra-orthodox director has banned men from a screening of her new film at Seret 2015, the London Israeli film and television festival, reports the Jewish Chronicle.

Rechy Elias’s drama Gift of Fire is due to be screened on 19 June at the Odeon in Swiss Cottage and the JW3 community centre. The story of a young religious woman living under a false identity after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century has only previously been shown in Israeli community centres.

Festival organisers said Elias, an Israeli member of the Haredi (or Charedi) group which rejects modern secular culture, had specifically stated that the screening be for women only. The move has led to complaints from some male filmgoers disappointed at the ban.

“We have agreed to show the film based on the film-maker’s requests as a Charedi woman,” a spokesperson for the festival told the Chronicle. “We would love to show it to the world but we had to agree to women-only screenings at the request of the director. We feel it is a valid inclusion in the festival as the quality and standard of the film is very high and we have to honour her religious beliefs.”

Festivalgoer David Lass said he had complained on the grounds that the decision appeared contrary to the law but was told the festival’s private charity status allowed it to stage women-only screenings.

“However, since all the cinema venues involved in the festival programme are open to the general public, I believe that this policy of excluding male filmgoers from all screenings would be quite unjustified under UK equality laws,” he said. “I asked them if they would offer a male-only screening giving men the chance and they declined.”

JW3 chief executive Raymond Simonson said women-only events were common in both the Jewish community and the wider non-Jewish world.

“Gift of Fire is a rare film in that it was made by a female director from the Haredi community, and has some Charedi women acting in it,” he told the Chronicle. “The director, Rechy Elias, made it with the explicit intention of it only being shown to female audiences. Without that condition, she would never have made the film as she would not have been able to express herself artistically in the same way, and some of the female actors would not have agreed to act in it.

“Whilst that may be very challenging to many of us, we are proud to be able to provide a platform for a female film director from the Charedi community to be able to express herself artistically, as well as a safe environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this extraordinary film.”

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