Ken Loach’s Israeli distributor, Lev Cinema and Films, has pledged to use the local profits from Looking For Eric and his next film, Route Irish, to promote Israeli cinema following the director’s recent protests against the state’s action in Gaza.

Nurit Shani, chief executive of Lev Cinema and Film, the country’s leading exhibitor, was speaking ahead of the premiere of Looking For Eric at the 25th Haifa International Film Festival, which closed on Sunday (October 11).

She said she admired Loach’s work but dismissed his decision to withdraw from festivals that accept help from Israel as a sheer hypocrisy and “a slap in the face of democracy”.

Shani added that she had continued to show Loach’s films despite his criticism of Israel and its policies in recent years because she believed each film-maker is entitled to their opinion, but he recent moves against Israeli film-makers, including lobbying against the recent focus on Tel Aviv at Toronto, showed that he did not share her belief.

Loach and his team have issued a pointed response Shani:

“It is not often we hear of bosses voluntarily sharing profits, so it was with some delight we heard the good news that Nurit Shani of Lev Cinemas and Films in Israel will use the profits from our film Looking for Eric to benefit Israeli film makers.”

In a joint statement, Ken Loach, screenwriter Paul Laverty and producer Rebecca O’Brien, said:

“We hope this new found determination to redistribute wealth will be matched by her wisdom in choosing to support those film-makers most starved of resources.  Logically, that would mean those brave free spirits in the Israeli artistic community who decide to respect the cultural boycott and refuse to accept any funds from the Israeli State. 

Who knows, but perhaps some time in the future Shani’s vision will help kick start projects about those courageous Isreali soldiers who formed the group “Breaking the Silence” and spoke out against the “reckless and gratuitous use of white phosphorous” in civilian areas in Gaza, and were appalled by the use of Palestinians as human shields?

Perhaps too we will be fortunate to watch films about those young men and women in Israeli prisons who refuse to join the Israeli army because of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. And why not include Palestinian film makers or is Israel really an apartheid State?”

It went on: “Unfortunately, Shani’s new found generosity is not matched by her good manners.  It is a long established tradition that film-makers are invited, or at least informed by the distributors, if their film is invited to a festival.  We were not told that Looking for Eric was invited to the Haifa film festival until after the event.  

Maybe this is because of our joint decision to respect the cultural boycott of projects supported by the Israeli state and called for by Palestinian artists, writers and grassroot organisations.  We also note the words of one of Israel’s leading poets Aharon Shabtai who said “I do not believe that a state that maintains an occupation, committing on a daily basis crimes against civilians deserves to be invited to any kind of cultural (event).”

Loach is currently at work on Route Irish, which Shani has already pre-bought distribution rights from Wild Bunch.