Bryn Mawr Film Institute Apologizes After Initially Canceling Israeli Film Screening

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute (Courtesy of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute via

“The Child Within Me” is not a documentary about Israel. It’s a documentary about an Israeli musician, Yehuda Poliker, looking back on his life.

The Israel-Hamas war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Middle East are not themes in the film. It’s just the documentarian, Eti Yaneta Segev, also Israeli, talking to Poliker and giving him the chance to reflect.

Yet in our post-Oct. 7 environment, it’s hard to be Israeli without representing all of Israel.

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute was supposed to screen the documentary, which has an 8.3/10 rating on IMDb, on April 9 as part of the Israeli Film Festival, an annual event in multiple cities across the United States. But the institute’s authorities canceled the screening because they were worried about protests. Then, after backlash from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a breach of contract lawsuit, the film institute screened the film after all.

The organization was apologetic about its initial decision.

“We are sorry for the missteps we’ve taken when confronted with a challenging situation and deeply regret the hurt we have caused to our local and global communities,” an emailed statement read. “Our concern for the physical safety of our community is always of paramount importance to us. In this case, it overshadowed our consideration of the broader concerns of that community and the implications of our decision.”

“BMFI has worked for nearly 20 years to support and give voice to our entire community regardless of political or religious affiliation,” it continued. “We will continue to pursue this mission better informed by this mistake. Thank you for your continued understanding and support.”

The film institute did not agree to make one of its leaders available for an interview. It also further stated that, “We understand that our actions were most hurtful to the Jewish community.”

Jason Holtzman, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council within the Jewish Federation, criticized the initial decision to cancel the film.

“Israel, just like any other country, has a vibrant culture and diversity of opinion,” he said. “It’s a poor decision by an institution to blacklist any culture due to political reasons. It’s even more egregious by the Bryn Mawr Film Institute because the film wasn’t political. It’s about Israeli music.”

Holtzman called the decision “cowardly” and said it portrayed Israel as “monolithic.”

Holtzman did acknowledge that there might have been a safety threat. However, he encouraged the film institute and other organizations faced with a similar situation to see it from the Jewish community’s perspective.

“We know what it’s like to feel unsafe and we know what it’s like to not back down,” he said. “The Bryn Mawr Film Institute I’m sure could have contacted the Lower Merion Police Department and asked for protection.”

The Israeli Film Festival, which is backed by individual donors, ran from April 6-14 at the Philadelphia Film Center, the PFS East Theater and the film institute. Screenings included a movie about a family wedding, a film about a writer plotting his comeback and a movie about a group of Arabs and Jews starting a village together.

“Art is not political in nature,” Holtzman said. “We know for sure that the Israeli Film Festival — they carefully curate the films they bring in. And they offer a wide representation of what Israeli society looks like.”

On April 10, the film institute and Haverford College collaborated on a screening of “Toshkua,” a film about migrants struggling with disappearance “from Central America to the U.S.,” according to At the event, Aurelia Gomez De Unamuno, a professor of Spanish at Haverford, spoke to the audience and asked it to “reflect on the connections between colonialism, displacement, disappearance and the precariousness of lives globally, in particular in relation to the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” according to an Instagram post from Haverford Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

BMFI was not aware of the contents of the professor’s speech beforehand, according to a spokesperson.

“Based on the information I have, they were fine hosting this event,” Holtzman said. “It’s a double standard.”

State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, whose Montgomery and Delaware County district includes Bryn Mawr, serves on the board of the film institute. She was not involved in the initial decision.

But Cappelletti, who is not Jewish, expressed her disappointment in a statement.

“No matter where you stand on the global issues at hand, penalizing artists because of their nationality is not the answer,” she said.

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