In February 2022, a battle raged between two factions at the Sundance Film Festival over the documentary Jihad Rehabilitation. The film garnered critical acclaim during its screening at a virtual festival a month ago, but was targeted by a small group of vocal critics. His two sides of the festival, programmers and non-programmers, got together to discuss the swirling controversy surrounding director Meg Smaker’s film.
According to sources, programming director Kim Yutani defended the film and some members of the institute who tried to appease those who hadn’t seen “Jihad Rehabilitation” but were outraged by its inclusion in the lineup. It is explained that there was a showdown of knockdowns and drags between Critics of the film targeted Smaker. That means it’s a non-Arab director, potentially endangering the film’s subject matter while reinforcing the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists. Their voices drowned out defenders of the document, including Los Angeles Times critic Lorraine Ali, who is Muslim, and influential former imam Jihad Turk.
Days after the Sundance showdown, Institute CEO Joana Vicente and then-film festival director Tabitha Jackson said they apologized for the film “hurting members of our community.” We have taken extraordinary measures. Other festivals, including SXSW, have withdrawn their invitations, following Sundance’s lead. As Smaker recalls, the once-promising document suddenly became “radioactive.”
“Sundance is considered a leader in our industry,” adds Smaker. “But when they started getting bogged down on Twitter, instead of supporting the movie slash filmmakers they chose to program, they put that movie and everyone involved in it under the bus. We threw it in and saved our butts.”
For many in the indie film world, the drama surrounding “Jihad Rehabilitation” (now titled “The UnRedacted”) represents a new state of affairs. Just nine years ago, the Sundance Film Festival announced without a peek that non-Arab filmmaker Peter Sattler’s Gitmo debuted “Camp X-Ray,” starring Kristen Stewart on his set. please think about it. But now everything is under a “microscope of scrutiny,” says veteran film finance lawyer Mark Simon.
In fact, its quick-yielding reflexes have seen the festival, once a bastion of provocative, push-button food, desperate to avoid the ire of a controversial and identity-focused Twitter mob. , highlighting the new implicit way of doing things.
Renowned indie director and A-list festival pedigree Terracino is also on the wrong side of the culture wars simmering on the circuit. In late 2021, he brought a rough cut of his latest narrative feature ‘Waking Up Dead’ to several major festivals that have exhibited his work in the past. Terracino, who directed his only SAG-cleared micro-budget film in Los Angeles at the height of his COVID pandemic in the fall of 2020, thought it would be received with open arms. The film, starring Gabriel Sousa and Traci Lords, had secured distribution before bowing out through Breaking Glass Pictures.
“But that’s when the ‘awakened’ pushback began,” he says of the resistance of the festival’s organizers. “My gay hero [is initially] This is something I wanted to explore, transphobia within the gay community, and they had a problem with it. They feared showing a film with a transphobic protagonist. ’” He says he was also asked: I was really surprised by that. I’m a gay Latino filmmaker, do I have to answer about bullshit racial politics?”
Outfest, which screened all of Terracino’s work to date and developed his film Elliott Loves, turned down ‘Waking Up Dead’. “I’m sure we’ll be able to find a way to support this movie in the near future,” wrote one programmer. Despite Terracino being a veteran of both, Frameline and his NewFest rejection followed. That meant a snub from his three biggest LGBTQ festivals in the US.
“You can feel the fear inside the festival. They’re afraid to show a film that someone might object to,” he adds. “A programmer at a Latino film festival said, ‘If even one person disagrees with your film, he could lose his job.'”
And although no one can officially confirm it, says a board member of Plugged Indie Source and Sundance variety They believe Jackson’s exit was related to her “jihad rehab” treatment. Sundance and Jackson declined to comment on her resignation.
“Tabitha Jackson is a lovely woman,” says Smaker. “But the problem is, she tried to keep everyone happy. And if you’re a leader, sometimes you have to make tough decisions that piss people off — that’s part of the job.” Dance has bent over backwards to appease the few who have never even seen the film.” (Smaker signed a March 2022 letter from the Sundance Film Festival condemning “jihad rehabilitation.” Of the more than 230 artists who attended, 95% said they hadn’t seen the film, a statistic the festival was able to provide based on attendance data from virtual screenings.)
Perhaps to avoid a repeat of the “Jihad Rehab” pandemonium, the Sundance application came to ask filmmakers for the backstory of their submitted documents, as well as additional information on the subject matter. Sundance officials say the requirements are new but have been in the works for some time. It is touted as a powerful tool, asking filmmakers: Did participating in your film make it worse?
Other recent festival films, such as the drama Sparta, have also come under fire for allegedly exploiting attendees. The Toronto International Airport Film Festival accepted this, but Austrian director Ulrich Seidl turned the film’s central theme of pedophilia into “alcoholism, violence and nudity without adequate preparation and proper support.” It withdrew the narrative feature following allegations that it did not tell exposed tween and teen actors. According to a revealing article in German magazine Der Spiegel, unlike Sundance, TIFF didn’t even explain its decision, just posted a message on his website that the film was withdrawn.
In unforgiving circumstances, salespeople say they must trust their intuition more than ever.
Josh Braun of Submarine said, “If you see something that seems problematic, you may shy away from it, even if you think it’s a good movie.” “Everybody is probably a little more familiar with what can end up being problematic. I think it’s a piece of paper. ”
For her part, Smaker feels justified by the growing backlash to her initial backlash. Sympathetic articles in the New York Times and Atlantic have helped breathe new life into the film, which was left for dead, and many are revisiting why it happened in the first place. And Terracino happily performed “Waking Up Dead” at festivals to win trophies, including winning Best Picture and Best Director at the Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival, and his own Happy Ending. determined to find
“If you want to see what happened to me, watch ‘UnRedacted.’ Woke is silencing artists and women of color,” he says. “And it’s interesting to me that there are so many people of color who are actually advocating for something that is silencing people of color. This is in some very dangerous places. I think it will connect, it already does, and I think many artists of color will soon regret this awakening ideology.”