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Cinema says it postponed Hamilton Jewish Film Festival due to 'high tensions,' as event finds new home

The Playhouse Cinema's Jacob Tutt is shown in 2021. The Playhouse is defending its decision to postpone the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival. (Kathy Renwald/CBC - image credit)
The Playhouse Cinema's Jacob Tutt is shown in 2021. The Playhouse is defending its decision to postpone the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival. (Kathy Renwald/CBC - image credit)

After postponing the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival, the Playhouse Cinema is pushing back against suggestions its decision was antisemitic and says it was prompted by a "legitimate concern" for the safety of its staff and customers.

"Once the concerns started to come in we thought this is a bit bigger than us," Jacob Tutt, the cinema's general manager, told CBC Hamilton. "We're just here to play films."

Last week, the Playhouse postponed the festival indefinitely, saying it had received "security and safety related emails, phone calls and social media messages."

"The postponement of this theatre rental was due to high tensions surrounding current events in Gaza, and our own security concerns as a small business that serves the public," the single-screen, independent theatre said in a statement.

"We are a small, family-owned business that operates an independent movie theatre in the neighbourhood where we live. We meant no harm in our decision to postpone this rental."

Late last year, the Hamilton Jewish Federation changed the venue of the festival from The Westdale cinema to the Playhouse after the former decided to screen Israelism, a film critical of Israel in December 2023, against the federation's wishes.

In response to the Playhouse's postponement, the federation said it was "outraged" and that the theatre was "prioritizing the will of antisemites."

Mayor helps festival find new venue

The festival has since found a new home at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre from April 7 to 9, the federation said in a statement Monday.

The federation gave credit to Mayor Andrea Horwath and her office for helping to arrange the venue.

"If history has taught us anything, it's that the Jewish community must take a stand against antisemitism," it said in its statement emailed to supporters.

"It was our moral obligation to ensure that our cultural events have a place in our city. We raised our voices and we are so proud that our advocacy efforts have led to what we see as the best possible outcome for the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival."

The mayor's Chief of Staff Kara McLean confirmed Horwath reached out the CEO of the federation "immediately" following the news about the Playhouse. Horwath then connected with economic development staff to help it find a new location.

"Antisemitism and threats of violence have no place in Hamilton," McLean said.

Land Acknowledgement: A Concert, is set to run Friday evening at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre in Hamilton, and serves as a way for Sinfonia Ancaster's music director Jeffrey Pollack to demonstrate his appreciation for the space and the land it sits on.
Land Acknowledgement: A Concert, is set to run Friday evening at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre in Hamilton, and serves as a way for Sinfonia Ancaster's music director Jeffrey Pollack to demonstrate his appreciation for the space and the land it sits on.

The Hamilton Jewish Film Festival will take place at the Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre. (Ancaster Memorial Arts Centre)

The Playhouse said it did not received any threats of violence about hosting the film festival before its decision to postpone it. But it was obligated to take the messages it did receive "seriously, regardless of their nature" as a community-based business and employer, the cinema said.

It also said it has a "long history" of working with Jewish groups, and showing films by Jewish filmmakers and films that are sympathetic to Jewish and humanitarian causes, as well as films that are about the Holocaust.

Other places offered to the festival too, including Planted in Hamilton and The Cotton Factory, but the Ancaster location ended up being the best fit, the federation said.

"While we were ready to host the festival in our own venue, we are so pleased to have seen so many in the greater Hamilton community declare that we should not have to marginalize ourselves," said the federation. "We are part of Hamilton, they have told us, and we matter."