Arnolfini Apologizes After Canceling Events for Palestinian Film Festival

May 6, 2024



Elle Yap

The Arnolfini in Bristol, England apologized for canceling two events in their Palestine Film Festival in November 2023. The apology comes after artists in the area condemned the move as censorship and boycotted the gallery for months. 

Arnolfini, in November 2023, canceled a screening of Farha (2021) and a talk between Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi and rapper/activist Lowkey. The gallery released an apology on their website on Friday, May 3, detailing their regret for this decision. 

Arnolfini from across the harbor. Photo by Arpingstone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Arnolfini from across the harbor. Photo by Arpingstone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“We are sincerely sorry we [canceled] the events. It was a decision based on the information and understanding we had at the time, but now believe it was wrong,” the gallery said. “We genuinely acknowledge the significant impact of how this situation has been handled and that an apology is long overdue. We deeply regret the distress caused and [apologize] without reservation.”

The Arnolfini’s Apologies

In their apology, the gallery acknowledged the high death toll of Israel’s bombings in Gaza. They also referenced the preliminary genocide ruling of the International Court of Justice. They said that they were currently in a mediation process with the festival organizers and other stakeholders over the ban. 

“Following a period of reflection and consultation, we are developing robust internal processes and assessing [organizational] structures, including a new Programming Policy that will be shared on our website once published, which we feel will best serve Arnolfini’s contributors and audiences in the future,” they said.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Edinburgh. Photo by Pretzelles. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Edinburgh. Photo by Pretzelles. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The canceled film, Farha (2021), is a coming-of-age story of a woman during the Nakba, the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. Directed by Jordanian director Darin J. Sallam and released on Netflix on December 1, 2022, the film was Jordan’s pick for Best International Feature Film for the Academy Awards in 2023. 

Mass Boycotts from Artists

The cancellation of the two events came out of the gallery’s desire to be apolitical. They claimed that, as an arts charity, they were “legally obliged” to follow government doctrine to not air political discourse. They believed removing the events to be the right course of action at the time. 

Many artists in the United Kingdom immediately decried the decision as censorship. Over a thousand artists signed an open letter at the time refusing to work with the gallery. The letter also pointed out that the film festival has been happening for years without any problem to its content. 

“This had not been a serious concern in all the previous years that Arnolfini hosted the film festival,” the letter said. “Nor had it been a problem with the many other exhibitions and public programmes that the [center] hosted since its opening in 1961.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters march towards British parliament. Photo by Alisdare Hickson. Source: Flickr.
Pro-Palestinian protesters march towards British parliament. Photo by Alisdare Hickson. Source: Flickr.

“One person wrote that the purpose of art is to ‘to hold space for as many voices as possible, not to silence them. Removing events platforming Palestinian experiences IS a political move.’ Another said, ‘If you only show artists’ work that focuses on oppression when it suits you, it’s called exploitation,’” the letter continued. 

Artists for Palestine UK ended their boycott of the organization after the release of Arnolfini’s apology.   

“We hope this sends a clear message to other cultural institutions,” they said. “Amid a repressive political and media climate, cultural institutions are too often failing in their duty to uphold freedom of expression and to protect against discrimination.”

Related reading: NCCA ceases restoration of Manila Metropolitan Theater

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