Expect controversy tomorrow when the film Rachel screens as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Directed by the French-Israeli filmmaker Simone Bitton, Rachel is a sympathetic documentary about Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The decision to program the film (which, it should be said, is apparently excellently made; Bitton is a celebrated filmmaker) and to invite Corrie’s mother, Cindy, to speak after the screening prompted the festival’s president to resign, the executive director to apologize, and festival sponsors to protest that the festival has “aligned itself with the wrong side.” The film will still screen, and Corrie’s mother will still sit for a Q&A afterward. However, the festival’s organizers did hastily invite a prominent Bay Area pro-Israel activist to speak immediately before the screening in order to provide “context”.
We haven’t seen the film, but according to the website for the Tribeca Film Festival, the film adheres to the guidelines of the International Solidarity Movement, to which Corrie belonged: “to state only objective and concrete details without placing judgment.” Of course, in choosing to subscribe to Corrie’s group’s own premises, perhaps the film has tipped its decidedly non-objective hand. Still, it reportedly features interviews both with ISM members and “current and former personnel” in the Israeli military. Frankly, it’s a shame that this controversy must play out only as a select few see the film in a couple screenings scattered across the country. If it is indeed so good, we hope that it will enjoy a wider release, so that the curious can make up their own minds.