The latest in our local controversy surrounding our Cinema Politica screening of the film Occupation 101 in response to the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla for human rights.
Woods Hole movie screen goes dark
WOODS HOLE — Some residents are worried the curtain is falling on the First Amendment after a nonprofit group was banned for the summer from screening movies, including controversial documentaries, in a town-owned building.
The Woods Hole chapter of Cinema Politica, a Canada-based group that showcases independent political films, has featured alternative movies every Friday night for the past 18 months in the former Water Street fire station building.
But the Woods Hole Community Association, a nonprofit group that leases the building from the town, suspended the chapter after receiving complaints related to several movies involving the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel.
"It comes down to the fact that this raises a whole host of free-speech issues," said Chris Spannos, a founding member of the Woods Hole branch of Cinema Politica.
But Catherine Bumpus and Steve Junker, co-presidents of the community association, said they’ve been receiving complaints from Woods Hole residents about the group for more than a year.
The decision to suspend Cinema Politica for the remainder of the summer was based on a breakdown in communication, Bumpus said, and not because of the content of the films.
Cinema Politica pays $40 a week to rent the fire station space, but there is no written contract between the two sides.
Elise Hugus and her husband Daniel Cojanu, two founding members of Cinema Politica, met with Bumpus and Junker in December because of several complaints the association had received regarding controversial movies.
Cojanu said he and Hugus were informed of vague complaints about the movie content, but neither side knew how to fix the problem. That’s when Bumpus and Junker came up with a temporary solution: notify the association prior to showing films about Palestine and Israel.
"Why do we need to give this topic special treatment?" Cojanu said yesterday. "From that point of view, we felt it was a freedom of speech issue."
But Bumpus said the association is not in the business of censoring anyone, and that Hugus offered to give the group advance notice if a movie concerning the Middle East was going to be shown.
So when Cinema Politica made a last-minute decision to screen a film called "Occupation 101," about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, on June 4, Bumpus said she grew concerned about false promises.
"We received e-mails that Friday, late in the afternoon, saying it was being shown, and we responded that we were disappointed not to have heard beforehand as they had offered," Bumpus said.
Cinema Politica members then penned a two-page response to the community association, calling for all future communication to be in writing. That raised "a lot of red flags" within the association, Bumpus said, and a decision was made several days later to suspend Cinema Politica for the rest of the summer and reconsider the group’s use of the building in the fall.
Spannos said the decision to show "Occupation 101" was because of the deadly May 31 Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza. Among those detained by the Israelis was Woods Hole resident Kathy Sheetz. "We always try to tie the movie in to current events, so this seemed like a very apt moment to show the film, following the flotilla invasion."
More than 50 people attended, he said, making it by far the largest audience since the club’s inception. And the "respectful and safe" discussion that followed is exactly the kind of discourse for which the group was formed, Spannos said.
Cinema Politica provides a year-round activity for people who seek an alternative to bars and parties, Spannos said, and they show films devoted to varied topics.
The group is trying to find a temporary summer location and wants to remain in Woods Hole. But not at the risk of censoring themselves or the movies they screen, Spannos said.
Ben Panish, 21, a frequent attendee, said he signed an online petition condemning the community association’s actions. He said people can be offended by almost anything, so drawing an arbitrary line in the sand at movies involving the Middle East is foolhardy.
"Films about Palestine are no more troubling than anything else, but it hit a nerve with some members on the board," Panish said. "I’m surprised because this is a small community of people in Woods Hole with the same ideals and it’s been going on for a year and a half. This is an infringement on free speech."
The Woods Hole Community Association, which got its start in 1918, allows the old fire station to be used for folk dancing, theater, a farmers market and the Woods Hole Film Festival.
Some movies screened by Cinema Politica before its recent suspension:
- "One Man, One Cow, One Planet"
- "Occupation 101"
- "The Art of Resistance"
- "RiP: A Remix Manifesto"
- "Burma VJ"
- "Earth Keepers"
Source: Cinema Politica website