Film-maker Atom Egoyan has weighed in on the Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) Tel Aviv sidebar dispute claiming the protestors have failed to substantiate their charge that the Israeli government interfered with TIFF’s programming.

Led by Toronto-based film-maker John Greyson, the so-called Toronto Declaration accuses TIFF of allowing itself to be co-opted by the state of Israel by programming its City To City sidebar on Tel Aviv to take the spotlight off the Israel/Palestine situation. TIFF has strongly rejected the charge.

Egoyan said any controversy and discussion “should come from the films and the film-makers. Questions of national history and identity must be presented and discussed.”

He has direct experience of similar controversy: he and his film Ararat were impugned by Turkish nationalists for its representation of the Armenian genocide.

“I have watched in dismay as many of my colleagues have signed this open letter,” Egoyan wrote.

Egoyan questioned if the Declaration’s signatories, who include British film-maker Ken Loach and writer Naomi Klein, are aware of the numerous Arab and Palestinian films programmed at TIFF 2009. It should be noted one of the more prominent signatories, Jane Fonda, has since reversed her decision.

In a statement posted on TIFF’s website yesterday, TIFF co-directors Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey noted that the original Declaration had not called for a boycott of TIFF. Regardless, one feature film, Heliopolis by Kuwaiti director Ahmad Abdalla, was withdrawn as a direct result. They wrote: “It is unfortunate that the producers have decided to take this action, independent of the original disagreement that sparked the Declaration.”