U.S-Israeli director and actress Aleeza Chanowitz has abandoned plans to attend the Stockholm Film Festival with her TV show Chanshi following a series of email exchanges in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict in which the event attempted to rescind an invite it made earlier this fall.
Recounting the episode to Deadline, a visibly hurt Chanowitz said she had been planning to travel to Stockholm for the Chanshi screening this Thursday (November 16) and that in the days immediately after the Hamas terror attacks of October 7 the invite still appeared to be open.
Chanowitz stars as a young Jewish Orthodox woman from Brooklyn who escapes an impending arranged marriage and moves to Israel in search of sexual adventure only to discover that her vision of the country is wrong. Henry Winkler plays the protagonist’s father.
Produced by Tel Aviv-based Kastina Communications, the show first aired on Israeli network Hot at the end of 2022 and then played in Sundance’s Indie Episodic sidebar in January of this year.
Having not received notification of her flights and accommodation from Stockholm last week, Chanowitz got in contact with the festival for an update.
She was told that her invite was no longer active because the Israeli embassy sponsorship of her travel costs had been withdrawn as its resources were being deployed elsewhere in the aftermath of October 7.
When Chanowitz offered to pay her own travel costs, she was told in an email from the hospitality department that the festival had to “to take a stand” and that the event feared that an “unpleasant situation” could arise for her due to the conflict in the backdrop. It was never clearly explained what “the stand” was.
When she pushed back and said she was still happy to attend, she was told that under a Swedish Foreign Ministry advisory warning against travel to and from Israel, they could no longer welcome her as a guest.
Chanowitz, who is also a U.S. citizen, responded that she would take full responsibility for any sort of situation which left her stranded. The festival pushed back again, saying she could instead do an online Q&A to accompany the screening.
There was never any suggestion that the screening of Chanshi would be cancelled.
Troubled by the withdrawal of the invite and the different explanations for the move, Chanowitz and her producers at Israeli broadcaster Hot took the story to the press over the weekend.
In a first official statement, Chanowitz wrote: “I am surprised by the festival’s cowardice, and it really sucks because I wanted to have a nice time at a cultural event where I could take a break from our scary reality and enjoy and discuss art.
“I also ‘have had to take a stand’; I stand with the Jews, Israelis of all kinds, peace with our neighbors, and most of all with the families of the hostages. If you’re a human in Stockholm who wants to watch an hour of an entertaining, funny, and human story, please go to the screening of Chanshi.”
In a statement from Israeli broadcasters Hot, the network corroborated Chanowitz’s experience with the festival and said the show had become “a scene of wrangling over the war in Gaza.”
Deadline has contacted the festival, running from November 8 to 19, for a comment on Chanowitz and Hot’s complaints. The festival has yet to get back to us.
Chanowitz told Deadline she had received a new email from Stockholm on Monday in which the festival apologized, said there had been a misunderstanding and that it would “love” her to come.
It offered to cover her accommodation, if she picked-up her flight, but also asked her to put out a statement saying the festival had never moved to cancel the Chanshi screening, which was never the issue at hand.
In a second official statement released to Deadline, Chanowitz said: “The festival’s excuse as to why they don’t want me to attend has changed three times, which makes me feel that they aren’t being honest with me. I don’t think I’ll be going because I don’t feel very welcome anymore. I also wanted to buy a nice sweater — I’ll buy one in Israel instead and support our economy.”
Chanowitz and her producers are deliberating over whether to release the emails.
The filmmaker says she would like to put the incident behind her and to attend Stockholm under better circumstances in the future, but at the same time feels hurt and concerned over the festival’s behavior.
Chanowitz’s alleged experiences at Stockholm come amid an increasingly fraught time for film festivals as the global tensions provoked by the October 7 attacks and subsequent Israeli military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 11,000 people, spill into their screenings and debates.
The International Documentary Festival Amsteram (IDFA) has found itself in the eye of the Israel-Hamas conflict storm in recent days, after a pro-Palestinian protest on the opening night drew criticism from Israeli professionals, with artistic director Orwa Nyrabia then finding himself in the firing line of pro-Palestinian professionals for his apologetic response. Read full coverage here.
Israel Film Fund director Noa Regev told Deadline on Monday that the current tensions in IDFA as well as what had happened to Chanowitz in Stockholm were worrying developments.
“Festivals should always be a space free from borders, where outstanding cinematic works can be celebrated,” she said.
“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that international film festivals provide a respectful platform for filmmakers, including those from conflict-affected regions, to share their perspectives through their films and create an environment where they all feel welcome.”