Meeting Report from the EuroFIA Tel Aviv, 20-21 November 2019

EuroFIA Event Reports News

The November Meeting of the EuroFIA in Tel Aviv was hosted by Israeli actors’ Union Shaham and the meeting opened with a warm welcome from Shaham President Esti Zakhaim.  It was an opportunity to present a range of new legislative and policy measures to support the working lives of performers in the country. These included the recent embedding of better labour protections into public artistic funding, where Shaham successfully sought to promote financial incentives for theatres employing performers as employees. As of 2020, at the last step of the funding attribution, if a theatre employs 90% of its performers as employees, it will get an extra 10% to its points allocation, in practice meaning an extra 10% of budget. This measure is already improving employment conditions in theatres.

Another inspiring note was Shaham’s skills development programme, which aims to equip actors to convert artistic skills into autonomous sources of livelihood. The group was pleased to welcome the programme director, himself an actor, Yoram Hattab, who delivered a workshop to the EuroFIA group, highlighting the main elements of the programme and what it means in practice for the performers who follow it. Yoram demonstrated some of his approaches with real life examples and role play with the group. Shaham also offered an inspiring presentation of the union-led work on combatting sexual harassment in the sector. Ori Reshtik, director of Shaham, presented both the Manifesto covering Theatres and Schools and the Special Agreement with Acting Academies. This work was led by Shaham’s legal department, with support of the Liat Behar Cohen law firm and the rape crisis centre of Israel. It resulted in a Manifesto with very clear standards regarding auditions, acting lessons and exercises and teacher-student relations and the clear responsibility of the teacher in that context. An English language version was shared with all delegates. Drama schools have cooperated fully and one in particular, initially among the most sceptical, ended up signing a special agreement with Shaham setting its own higher standard on sexual harassment.

The meeting also dedicated some time to an overview and discussion on relevant policy developments and project work since the last meeting. The Secretariat offered an update on all running projects, both at European and International level. The group also spent some time on intellectual property matters, including the work undertaken with FIM and AEPO-ARTIS (in the wake of the Fair Internet campaign) to arrive at joint guidance and analysis for the use of members in the context of implementation of the European Copyright Directive. FIA is involved in the EU stakeholder consultation process regarding implementation of Article 17, particularly as regards the AV sector. The Secretariat also highlighted the important European consultation – extended to the end of 2019 – on the extension of the term of protection in the audiovisual sector, with a view to possibly aligning the term of protection for audiovisual performances to the previously extended term for audio recordings.

The meeting included a memorable panel discussion on the thorny issue of how freedom of artistic expression can be upheld in a volatile political context, riven by profoundly opposing views. Can cultural diversity still flourish in the face of societal division and even be a bridge? It was chaired by Maureen Beattie, President of Equity UK, with contributions by Hisham Sulliman – an Israeli Arab actor; Said Abu Shakra – The Umm El Fahem Gallery Director; Yigal Azarati, Artistic director of the Jaffa Theatre. These three exceptional figures in Arab culture in Israel described their lives, their artistic work and what meaning it carries in the current context in Israel. Hisham Sulliman spoke about his career and work in the fringe theatre in Nazareth in the North. He highlighted that as an Arab in Israel with an acting dream, there was no set path he could follow. In the end, he made his way to Tel Aviv and it was his first exposure to Hebrew culture. To succeed, he needed to learn Hebrew and more deeply to acquire the codes of the culture. Afterwards Hisham felt his role was to return to Nazareth and open up the cultural space there and develop community projects that build and value identity and give people a sense of inclusion. The result was the CultureLab project in Nazareth. He also opened a branch of the Yoram Loewenstein acting school in Nazareth.

Said Abu Shakra opened his art gallery 25 years ago: the first and then only Arab Art Gallery in Israel. Arab culture remains underfunded – a mere 3% of the culture budget. He felt the need to open a door and occupy a space, as nothing was being achieved by passively waiting, accusing and blaming. The gallery has an archive of oral history and has captured the story of the elders. There are 600 transcribed interviews and though 90% have died, the history is saved for the new generation. The gallery is a platform for dialogue, in the conditions set by its narrative.

Yigal Azarati described the Tel Aviv neighbourhood of Jaffa and the constant interaction of identities that has defined it. Culture has to be a meeting place for both communities to foster understanding. He highlighted the Jaffa theatre’s Galandia project about a checkpoint between two villages, with Jewish and Arab actors playing all the characters and switching between the roles, forced to enter into a different community and mindset, putting themselves in their shoes. This is the power of theatre, for the actors and for the audiences. The theatre seeks to showcase the beauty of Arab culture and bring it to the wider audience so it can be a meeting place.

The EuroFIA Group unanimously adopted a Resolution on Engagement with Palestinian Artists and in support of freedom of artistic expression.

The next EuroFIA meeting will take place in Istanbul, Turkey, hosted by AUT and CASOD, from April 2-4, 2020.

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