Barnet Council’s ‘miserly’ £800 charge threatens Jewish Film Festival screenings

The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley is due to host a number of films for the UK Jewish Film Festival

The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley is due to host a number of films for the UK Jewish Film Festival - Credit: Archant

Barnet Council has come under attack after becoming the only local authority in the country to charge a popular jewish film festival for screening their films.

Organisers of the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) have been told they must hand over £800 to the council to show 10 films at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

The festival, which saw screenings controversially pulled from the Tricycle Theatre last year in a dispute over links to the Israeli government, is due to screen documentary and feature films across the UK next month.

But organisers could think twice about its showings in Barnet as the council becomes the only local authority charging it to show films.

It has prompted widespread criticism from the organisers, the Phoenix Cinema and local councillors.

Michael Etherton, chief executive of the UKJFF, said: “The film certification and waiver fees being charged by Barnet Council adversely affect the financial feasibility of film festivals such as ours, bearing in mind that each film generally receives one screening only.

“The effect of such fees can be to reduce the range of festival films on offer to the local community or to dissuade festivals altogether from presenting films in the borough.

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“We believe that film festivals have a huge amount to contribute to the local community, enriching the range of cultural provision on offer, and that local councils should play their role in encouraging that diverse cultural provision.”

The council fees are to cover classification costs as none of the films due to be shown have a British Board of Film Certification.

But this has been waived by all other local authorities involved in this year’s UKJFF, organisers say.

Kate McCarthy, head of business operations at the Phoenix Cinema, said: “This decision has come as a shock and the UKJF have been told they need to decide by Wednesday 14 October what to do or they will have to pull all films. This seems to be a very unreasonable standpoint and will affect the future likelihood of the UKJF wishing to screen premieres or festivals in Barnet.

“Needless to say, it will also dissuade student or young filmmakers from arranging screenings in Barnet and will mean that Barnet will be unlikely to host any kind of festivals in the future, when other Councils are so much more amenable.

“I do not understand why Barnet Council would wish to stifle their cultural status as a Borough by discouraging this kind of activity, which brings prestige, custom, money and goodwill to the local area.”

Cllr Arjun Mittra, Labour representative for East Finchley, added: “Having the UKJFF at the Phoenix is an important cultural and community event, and we must ensure these expensive barriers are taken away.

“Barnet Council must move on from the times when senior figures in the administration said ‘we don’t do culture in Barnet’.

“If they are serious about Barnet being a great place to live they must include a cultural offer, and given that Barnet has the largest Jewish community in Britain, it is all the more important that it hosts the film festival.”

London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore also expressed his outrage at the decision, saying: “The council is behaving in its usual miserly way, in trying to squeeze the pips to extract £800 in fees from the Phoenix to host the UKJFF, an independent cinema that is part of the community and does such good work in screening previews, student work and, low-budget and short films by emerging filmmakers.”

Barnet Council has been approached for a comment.