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The Globe and Mail

Professor says use of Cameron's and Fonda's names was 'a lame joke'

Two Canadian filmmakers who put the names of Oscar-nominated director James Cameron and actor-activist Jane Fonda on a call to boycott a student film festival in Israel say the names were included as "a joke" _ "a lame joke," one of the filmmakers, who is also a university professor, admits in a Feb. 12 letter to The Globe and Mail.

The filmmakers _ John Greyson, an associate professor of film production at Toronto's York University, and Toronto-based documentarian Kathy Wazana _ included Mr. Cameron and Ms. Fonda as apparent sample signatories of a draft "open letter to film schools" circulated last month as "a private e-mail" (according to Mr. Greyson) to friends and university faculty as part of the "discussion stage" (according to Ms. Wazana) for preparing a formal letter for wide release. In the draft, Ms. Fonda is described as a "lecturer, London Film School" (which she is not), while Mr. Cameron is called simply "filmmaker."

The formal letter was subsequently released Feb. 4, using much of the same wording in the draft, and signed by more than 40 scholars, film teachers and filmmakers from Canada, Britain, the United States, France and South Africa, including Mr. Greyson and Ms. Wazana.

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The names of Mr. Cameron and Ms. Fonda were not included in this open letter which urges film schools to boycott the biennial Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, scheduled for June this year, to protest "human-rights abuses" by the Israeli government. However, when informed their names had been attached to the draft, both Cameron and Fonda, or their representatives, disavowed knowledge of it and support for its contents.

In a Feb. 5 e-mail to Toronto filmmaker Ric Esther Bienstock, Ms. Wazana called the inclusion of the celebrities' names "a terrible mistake and I am mortified at the implications.... Please forward this message to James Cameron and convey my apologies."

Another complication was the impression some had that Mr. Greyson or Ms. Wazana had tried to present the boycott call as having the support of York colleagues.

However, in a letter to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Greyson stressed he "never represented [himself]... as anything but an individual professor/filmmaker ... making enquiries about ... the boycott."

Helping to "generate" the open letter was "completely separate from York," he said.

Further, when the official open letter was released Feb. 4, only one York film professor besides Mr. Greyson was among the signatories. Mr. Greyson declined to be interviewed for this article.

The call for the boycott had been issued Jan. 17 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, established in the West Bank in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and scholars.

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Mr. Greyson, who last fall helped organize a boycott of a survey of Tel Aviv filmmakers at the Toronto International Film Festival, brought the PACBI call for discussion by a seven-person production committee at York charged with deciding if the university should participate in the Tel Aviv festival, an invitation-only affair.

However, the committee's co-chairs, Jim Fisher and Barbara Evans, declined to hold a discussion _ a decision Mr. Greyson says he accepted _ and subsequently called for a "confidential poll" of the committee on whether to submit York student films to Israel.

According to the co-chairs, "a clear majority" agreed to participate. Three student films from York are now scheduled to screen in Tel Aviv.

Afterwards, Tereza Barta, a York film production professor who's been invited to join the jury of the student festival, sent a letter to the directors of the Tel Aviv event, saying that "while the department cannot and will not censor personal and individual political views, it utterly dissociates itself from John Greyson's stand."

However, Amnon Buchbinder, chair of York's film department, told The Globe and Mail Feb. 19 that this was only Ms. Barta's "personal interpretation" of the poll.

Neither the committee nor the film department as a whole entertained a motion or vote to "dissociate" or reprimand Mr. Greyson.

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"The department decided to participate [in Tel Aviv]" Mr. Buchbinder said, "and therefore disagreed with Greyson's position and rejected his argument. But disagreement on that level happens daily in academia. People slamming one another happens daily on a one-to-one basis."

Editor's Note: An earlier online article about this issue contained inaccuracies which have been corrected or clarified in this online version.

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