The Exiling Of My Film: “Exile, A Myth Unearthed” by the BBC

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue May 7 22:55:50 BST 2013

The Exiling Of My Film , “Exile, A Myth Unearthed”, In The BBC,

As some of you know, my film EXILE, A MYTH 
UNEARTHED, which examines the myth of the Jewish 
EXILE and its political impact on both Israeli 
Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, was 
going to be shown on the BBC Thursday April 25th. 
It was pulled out of the schedule only a few days earlier.

Since than I was flooded by dozens of emails of 
angry and concerned viewers asking what 
happened.   To be honest I debated whether to 
tell the story of what I think had happened. I 
have worked with the BBC in the past on some 
programs that were deemed controversial and I 
never had any political censorship. On the 
contrary I was impressed by the integrity and 
fairness of the people I dealt with.

So based on my past experience, I was going to 
wait patiently until the BBC programming 
executives would solve the internal drama that 
apparently has begun to brew inside the 
BBC.  “The film is gorgeous, courageous and 
fresh, “ I was told several times by the 
programming executives. I was promised that the 
cancellation was temporary: “Given the short 
timescale and your workload, we have decided to 
delay transmission until we’ve had the chance 
you’ve had the chance to go through it in detail”.

I naively believed and decided to wait quietly. 
But things have their own momentum and as I 
learned more, I realized that the story of 
“EXILE” in the BBC is far more complex.

Among the dozens of emails I received one caught 
my attention. It included the official email 
response from the BBC to the inquiry/complaint 
sent to irate viewers who contacted the BBC 
asking why the program was pulled out of the 
schedule. This email contradicted a private email 
sent to me by the programming executives. I was intrigued.

I discovered after quick research that while I 
was contacted by the BBC barely a week before the 
broadcast asking for my comments about the cut, 
the BBC have had the film for almost 6 months. So 
why was this sudden rush which supposedly was the 
excuse given to me as to why the film was pulled 
out?  Why was I contacted so late in the 
game?  And why was there a discrepancy between 
what was told to me and the “official” version . 
I started to dig a bit deeper and to put my 
findings in a blog, rather than answer the dozens 
of people who wrote to me privately.

This is not a personal issue.  This is ultimately 
a sad saga of what I believe is a mixture of 
incompetence, political naiveté, conscious or 
subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I 
believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when 
they are faced with the complexity of the Middle 
East issue and the intense emotions, fears and 
aggression it generates. Once you indeed 
depersonalize this incident, you gain a 
fascinating insight on how subtle and complex is 
the process by which our understanding of 
the  Israeli Palestinian conflict is being shaped 
and what happens when one dares to raise 
questions about issues deemed by some as 
taboos.  It is this insight that I think is worth sharing and detailing.

The story begins for me with the name. I 
discovered only 3 days before the broadcast that 
the BBC has been using a different name for the 
film: Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery 
Story.   It struck me as an odd choice that seems 
to camouflage the film’s real subject and 
repackages it as a neutral archeological mystery 
of sort- like the hundreds of hours one can see 
on cable and Satellite channels throughout the world.

“ Exile” of course is not about a mystery, 
neither it is limited to archeology or to 
Jerusalem. The name and the illusion that one can 
pretend that this film is just about archeology 
and its mysteries are at the core I believe of Thursday’s fiasco.

Digging deeper I also learned that this title was 
established back in November 2012 in the 
agreement between the National Film Board of 
Canada (one of the  film’s co producers and its 
int’l distributor) and the BBC.  Unknown to me at 
the time it was also agreed that my name would be 
removed and the version would be listed as an 
adaptation.  I do remember being approached by 
the NFB (National Film Board of Canada ) asking 
me if I would allow the BBC to cut the film down. 
I asked, and was promised, that the BBC would 
consult with me on the cut down so the integrity 
of the longer version (104 min) would be 
preserved.  From my access to some internal 
documents, it is obvious now that the BBC was not 
genuinely interested in my getting involved.  As 
the documents suggest, they realized that they 
could always rely on the solution to have my name 
removed and list the version as an “adaption”.

So back in November 2012, everything seemed to be 
on track to produce a cut down of the film 
without having to deal with the director, 
broadcast the film under a neutral title and 
hopefully avoid any serious political debate. A 
perfect solution!  So what went wrong?

Fast forward to Saturday April 20th 2013 when I 
received an email from a friend in the UK who saw 
that “my” film Jerusalem; An Archeological 
Mystery Story was going to be broadcast on BBC 4. 
He even read a preview of it in the Guardian. The 
preview promised that the film “ will ruffle some 
feathers”.  Two days earlier I did receive from 
the editor who cut the film a copy of the cut for 
me to comment on, but there was no mention of an impeding broadcast date!

On Monday, 3 days before the broadcast, I fired 
an email to the BBC programming executives 
complaining that it is unfair to expect me to 
spend time reviewing the cut and coming up with 
suggestions of a re cut, when I was given only a 
few days before a broadcast date that no one 
bothered to inform me about. I pleaded for more 
time. It was only when one of the programming 
executives called me, I realized that there were 
much bigger issues for her than my complaint 
about being pushed into an impossible schedule.

The program executive seemed genuinely shocked 
that a freelance employee hired by the BBC to 
take part in the re-versioning process called the 
film “propaganda”. When I asked if this unnamed 
person had specific examples to support such a 
sweeping charge, I was told  that she claimed 
that , “Everything was propaganda”.  And there was more.

An “unnamed” BBC insider who I was told “liked 
the film,” claimed that the film props up the 
myth of Exile “ which we all know did not happen, 
in order to support his political analysis”.  I 
learned that the cut I was given was now 
irrelevant, since some internal review deemed one 
scène with the Palestinians to be “too emotive” 
and they were asked to cut it down.  Realizing 
that a mini political storm was brewing around 
the film and attacks lodged against its 
integrity, I asked and was promised that I would 
be given at least a summary of the essential 
charges so I could answer them in length.  I am 
obviously very familiar with some of them and 
could easily and in detail refute them.  I told 
the programming executive that my reply would 
help them to defend the film in the Channel. 
After all, they professed to love the film and 
seemed genuinely interested to show it.  I told 
them it was very easy for me to prepare a 
detailed rebuttal with citation of sources for 
every word of the narration, the 
overall  analysis and for every scene. I told 
them that some of the academic participants in 
the program who  saw the cut and are reputable 
scholars in their field  did not find any factual 
errors or misrepresentations of facts or  of the 
historical narrative. In other words, I argued 
that such a detailed and substantial defense 
would convince any objective reader and observer 
of the editorial integrity of the film. I 
repeated the request several times yet I never 
got a reply. Instead, I received an email telling 
me that they decided to pull it out of the 
schedule, citing  the “ short  timetable and my 
work load “( !) A few days later I saw the 
“official” version that went to the public:

“We originally acquired ‘Jerusalem: An 
Archaeological Mystery Story’ to supplement BBC 
Four’s season exploring the history of 
archaeology. However, we have decided that it 
doesn’t fit editorially and are no longer 
planning to show it as part of the season.  Plans 
to broadcast  the program are currently under 
review”  So Exile, A myth unearthed  has begun its own exile within the BBC.

I do believe it is ultimately a sad saga. A saga 
of well meaning programming executives who 
acquired  the  “courageous “ film  they claim to 
love, believing that they can sneak it by with a 
“neutral title”. When they were “caught”, rather 
than face the criticism  and be helped by the 
mountains of documents and dates I was ready to 
send them,  they panicked like deer in the 
headlights not knowing what to do and eventually 
raised  their hands in resignation.

The truth of the matter is that the reaction 
outside and inside the BBC surprised me too. The 
film by now has been shown in a Jewish Festival 
in Toronto, playing in a screening room there for 
a week. It was shown on Canadian TV with a second 
broadcast  planned for June.  Another version of 
the film is scheduled to be shown in France and 
Switzerland ,with  hopefully screenings in the US 
later in the year.  The response in all the 
public screenings, some of which I attended, was 
overall extremely positive. Nowhere did the film 
generate such a reaction as  that of the few 
individuals inside and outside the BBC.

The temporary success to “exile” the film might 
prove I believe to be a pyrrhic victory.

EXILE does not deal with contemporary politics in 
the Middle East, rather, it proposes to examine 
their ideological and historical 
underpinnings.  EXILE has not contributed to the 
political stalemate in the region nor to the 
continued bloodshed, occupation and violence. It 
is a film born out of the continued violence. 
Rather than propose a simplistic solution or an 
aspirational political program , it tries to 
suggest a possible way out by re examining the 
historical narratives we all grew up on, 
suggesting that in this tormented land there are 
historical models of co existence and tolerance 
that could replace the dominant conventional 
nationalist ones. Silencing this film is 
silencing a possibility of discussion, debate and 
re examination not of the current political 
stalemate but of the intellectual stalemate that contributes to it.

I hope that somewhere in the BBC someone will 
rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self 
censorship to take a cooler look at the film and 
realize how it has been profoundly 
mis-characterized , -viewing it through partisan 
glasses instead of looking at it for what it 
is:  a film that can and has already in 
its  public screenings generated  dialogue and 
positive, thinking rather than perpetuating divisions  and polarization.

So for me this is not the end of EXILE in the UK 
but only the beginning.  I will show the film 
publically throughout the UK and will challenge 
the BBC to either broadcast the film or 
relinquish its rights. I have offered to buy 
these rights so I could place the film elsewhere in the UK.

The saga of EXILE will continue. Stay tuned!
+44 (0)7786 952037
Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered 
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that 
shall not be made known. What I tell you in 
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye 
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

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