In a move that has surprisedmany, the state-funded Greek Film Centre, which gives Greek film-makers fundsavailable for development, co-production and promotion, has decided to withdrawthe Greek films from the upcoming Haifa International Film Festival (Oct 7-14)in Israel.

The films already invited byHaifa's artistic director Pnina Blayer were the Pandelis Voulgaris' The Brides,a local box office hit - and Yannis Economides' Soul Kicking, which premiered in Cannes CriticsWeek.

The Soul Kicking withdrawal was apparently due to the director's desireto reserve the film for the competition section of the upcoming Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Nov 17-26). Voulgaris opted to withdraw his film in line with the GFCposition.

In a carefully wordedstatement about the decision, the Greek Film Centre said: "the decision to notparticipate in the Haifa International Film Festival' should not mistakenlyunderstood as a form of boycotting on our part and, perhaps, as an expressionof anti-Israeli feelings. This is not the case at all. The Greek Film Centrehas participated in festivals in Israel on many occasions in the past and intends to do soin the future, if the circumstances allow. It goes without saying that we areappalled by any act of terrorism against innocent people, wherever it comesfrom. Moreover, we recognize that you are making tremendous efforts to allowthis festival to happen and we, too, feel that so far we have had a friendlyand fruitful relationship with you. By withdrawing the films we made apractical statement that, cultural institutions cannot be oblivious to the hardfact that, in a violent situation like the current one in the Middle East,peoples cannot in fact enjoy the privilege of getting together to celebrate artand culture. Moreover, we felt that we did not have the right to put people(directors or administration officials) in danger by asking them to be present."

The GFC decision broughtangry reactions from such quarters as the local branch of the Israeli Council, theGreek Embassy in Israel and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such reactions forced the GFCboard to partially rectify stressing that, "aswe do not want to create any hard feelings between us, we would like tostate that the films can come to Haifa, but unfortunately, we cannot send a representativethere, unless, of course, the situation changes dramatically, something we allwish for. Of course, independent directors can do as they please".

Such a rectification doesnot however seem capable of mending the situation entirely. The films will nottravel to Haifa and the Greek-Israeli culture relations seem to have received aconsiderable blow, especially now that Greece, as a non-permanent member of theUN Security Council, is trying to play a most welcome foreign policy mediatorpart in the actual conflict, distancing itself from the its resolutely pro-Arabforeign policy of the '80s and early '90s.

Cultural relations betweenthe two countries the have been quite intense and fruitful in the recent past.In the film area, film weeks and tributes have been organized in both countrieswhile Greek and Israeli film have participated and awarded in the Jerusalem, Haifaand Thessaloniki festivals.

This is the secondfilm-related incident of the kind directly linked to the actual conflict. Lastmonth the Locarno International Film Festival haddecided to drop the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as one of the sponsorsof this year's Leopards of Tomorrow sidebar. A group of filmmakers, includingPalestinian directors Elia Suleiman, Sameh Zoabi, Annemarie Jacir and Lebanese-born Elie Khalife and Myrna Maakaron, whohad films invited to screen in the sidebar's competition or retrospective, haddemanded that the festival withdraw the Israeli ministry from the list ofsponsors.