Screening of Graphic Oct. 7 Hamas Attack Movie Canceled in Cannes Amid ‘Serious Security Risk’

Thanks to enhanced security measures, attendees at this year’s Cannes Film Festival have faced only a few hiccups. Even the ongoing war and Israeli hostage situation in Gaza haven’t made headlines during the festival, in stark contrast with the Berlinale.

But one private screening, which was scheduled outside of the festival and market, was canceled abruptly, and attendees were told it was due to a security threat. Details of what happened remain unclear.

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On May 17, WestEnd Films co-founder Sharon Harel-Cohen organized a screening of “Bearing Witness” for a small group of industryites who were in town for the festival. The 47-minute film shows raw footage from the Oct. 7 terror attack in southern Israel, some of it captured by body cameras and CCTV. The invitation warned: “The footage is extremely graphic and violent, including videos of murder filmed by Hamas terrorists.” It also noted, “For security reasons the location will be released only a few days before the event, to registered participants only.” Attendees received the location, the Exclusive Hotel Belle Plage — located about a mile from the Palais — and were asked not to share it with others. But shortly before the screening, attendees were told that it had been called off.

“About an hour before, we received an order from the IDF not to hold the screening due to a security threat,” WestEnd Films co-founder Maya Amsellem told Variety. “We have not heard any additional details.” Added Harel-Cohen: “There’s not much you can do. When you get word that there is a security issue from the IDF, that’s it. It was an opportunity. It’s really a pity.” Harel-Cohen said she has no plans to try again to screen “Bearing Witness” during the run of the festival.

Gadi Wildstrom, who organizes the annual Cannes Shabbat dinner for industry power brokers that is hosted by Rabbi Mendel Schwartz and the Chai Center of Los Angeles, was planning to attend the screening but was told the event was canceled due to a “serious security risk.” “It’s typical what we’re dealing with,” Wildstrom added. (The Shabbat dinner, which was held on May 17, went off without a hitch and drew nearly 100 industry guests from more than 40 countries.)

But other sources with knowledge of the screening say it was canceled because the Israeli Defense Forces had been asked for permission to host the screening only two hours before its scheduled time and the screening didn’t follow the security protocol. A private screening of “Bearing Witness” had also been planned in Paris on the same day and was canceled after several hostages portrayed in the film were found dead, according to a source involved in the organization of the screening. A spokesperson for the IDF declined comment.

A screening for “Bearing Witness” in Los Angeles in November was attended by high-profile members of the film and television community including producers Lawrence Bender and Jamie Patricof and Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz. But the event, held under heavy guard at the Museum of Tolerance in West L.A., was marred by protests outside the building, representing both sides of the Israel-Gaza divide. Violent clashes broke out after the screening ended.

Overall, the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet was mostly devoid of political statements. The few exceptions included Laura Blajman-Kadar, a survivor of the Oct. 7 attacks who, on May 15, wore a yellow dress emblazoned with the faces of hostages held by Hamas and a sash that read “Bring Them Home.” The ban on outright demonstrations stemmed from the festival organizers’ wish to maintain the focus on movies, as Cannes president Iris Knobloch told Variety, but also for security reasons as France is currently on high alert due to terrorist threats.

Along with a record number of on-the-ground security staff and checkpoints, the city of Cannes inaugurated 17 A.I.-powered video surveillance cameras around the Palais des Festivals to flag anything suspicious or at risk. As such, the entrance to the Palais was closed briefly on the afternoon of May 18 after a bomb scare due to a rucksack that was found in the crosswalk. And the union of French festival workers held small impromptu demonstrations throughout the week, but not appear to impact the flow of pedestrians making their way to premieres and panels.

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