Traffic on Main Street in Park City came to a complete halt on a busy Sunday afternoon during the Sundance Film Festival as several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters — among them actors Melissa Barrera and Indya Moore — packed the sidewalk to chant “free Palestine” and “stop the genocide.”
Calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War and protests surrounding the conflict have seen participation from those in the entertainment industry since the outset of the conflict.
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Pose star Moore, in town for the festival premiere of Ponyboi, took the microphone at one point to say, “I’m gay as — God forgive me — fuck. I love everybody. I love people. I have Israeli friends. I have Jewish friends. I have Palestinian friends. Everybody sees what’s happening. They all agree, there needs to be a ceasefire. Stop telling us to hate each other. Stop telling us they hate each other. They also know that the Palestinian children that have been murdered are not responsible for freeing the hostages right now. That’s just the truth, right? The children are innocent.”
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) January 21, 2024
As Barrera looked on, Moore continued by saying, “If you care about life, if you care about dignity, if you care about freedom, you care about the self-determination of everybody.” Though members of the LGBTQ community often face violence, persecution and death in Palestine, Moore offered a counter by saying, “This is about life. That’s why I’m here. I’m trans, right? It’s about love.” She then said, “Free Palestine is about equality for everybody.”
Pose star Indya Moore takes the mic and says “I’m gay as fuck” and trans but “free Palestine is about equality.” pic.twitter.com/BTA9UNJnB3
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) January 21, 2024
With snow flurries and temperatures in the mid-30s, the scene unfolded directly in front of Park City mainstay Main Street Pizza & Noodle, as the group of protesters crashed up against festival attendees trying to make their way up and down the busy block for screenings, panels, lunches and events. At one point, Chrissy Teigen was seen walking toward the protest trailed by an entourage.
Barrera’s appearance comes after she was fired from the Scream franchise for her social media posts about the Israel-Gaza conflict. The Palestinian supporter has said she’s since had an “awakening” that has led her to become who she is “supposed to be” in life. She is in Park City for the premiere of her new film, Your Monster.
Utah state troopers and Park City police teamed up to monitor the scene that, at times, grew tense as a handful of Israeli supporters stood opposite the Palestinian protesters to chant “bring them home” as a reference to the hostages being held since the Nova music festival attack on Oct. 7. Other people were heard booing the Palestinian protesters and attempting to drown out their chants of “resistance is justified when people are occupied.”
“We are not protesting Sundance, we are protesting the complacency of the mainstream media,” exclaimed one of the lead female protesters, who did not give a name. “All of you here who are filmmakers and artists, who use your art to tell stories, why are you being silent?” There were chants of “ceasefire now” and calls for President Joe Biden to end the U.S. support of the conflict, with demonstrators chanting, “This November we’ll remember.” Signs read “Let Gaza live” and “de-platform Zionism” and were decorated with watermelon, which has become a symbol of solidarity with Palestine.
Israeli supporters, smaller in numbers, now gathered across Main Street shouting “Bring them home” as counter to Palestinian chants. pic.twitter.com/VtK6tm81JZ
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) January 21, 2024
One of the Sunday events on Main Street was a brunch hosted by top Hollywood talent agency UTA. There, an anonymous industry insider said it was “incredibly inappropriate” for such a protest to be happening amid the festival. “There are a lot of Jewish people at this festival and a lot of them are not happy about these protests going on around the world,” said the source, who hails from New York where they said they’ve spoken to many such protesters, many of whom they believe are misinformed. “They don’t have sufficient information in the first place and they need to be more educated about the history and the events.”
The source specifically called out the common Palestinian chant “from the river to the sea,” a saying that they claim calls for the “ridding of the Jewish people.” That, they continued “is especially alarming amid a rise of antisemitism around the world.”
During the protest, one man confronted a Palestinian protester over the use of the chant, asking the woman, who was one of the organizers of today’s event, if she was aware of the connection. The protester refused to engage but when The Hollywood Reporter approached the man to inquire about the passionate exchange, he opened up. Michael Sapers said he lives in Park City during the winters and he came to Main Street because he heard the protest was happening. As a Jewish man, he felt inspired to represent a counterargument.
“It boggles my mind that people don’t really understand what’s going on. I see there are a group of gays here who are supporting Palestinians but in Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, you can’t be openly gay. They will get beheaded,” Sapers said. “Israel is probably one of the most accepting places in the world for homosexuals. Yet here they are shouting, ‘From the river to the sea,’ which means the extermination of Jews, right? They want to move the Jews out to the sea to get rid of them.”
He continued that Israel has “made strides” in improving its relations with neighboring countries “yet they get attacked on Oct. 7 and 1,200 people were killed including women and babies. Women were raped. It’s horrible. What was Israel supposed to do? They’ve got to fight back. I know it’s terrible and awful that Palestinian women, children and innocent non-Hamas people have been victims in all of this,” Sapers continued. “But it’s a shame. I wish I could educate people, but I first asked questions, but nobody here would answer questions. It’s a shame. I feel sad for them because I don’t think that they come from a of understanding. I don’t think they do their homework. I don’t think they do the research.”
News of the planned protest broke on Friday with a social media post promoting “Let Gaza Live” invited interested parties to Main Street for a march to a demonstration to start at 12:30 p.m on Sunday. “Park City is home to the largest indie film fest in the U.S.; tens of thousands travel across the globe to attend the event. While we do not take issue with Sundance as a whole, we aim to let spectators & news reporters know that Utah stands with Palestine,” read the Instagram post.
The protest is not affiliated with the Sundance Film Festival. The Palestinian Solidarity Association of Utah noted that security at the protest was to be handled by Utah-based Armed Queers of Salt Lake City.
“We have also been made aware of the demonstration and its commitment to maintaining a peaceful environment,” the Sundance Institute offered in a statement at the time. “While the organizers are non-affiliated with the Festival itself, the safety and security of our festival goers is always of concern to us, and we consistently work with local law enforcement to uphold an environment that is welcoming, inspiring and secure for all our attendees.”
As is so often the case at Sundance, the social, political and cultural environment is reflected on big screens and via programming with events, panels, protests and gatherings. Several days ago, an organization called Film Workers for Palestine released an open letter calling for “filmmakers and cinema workers to stand for an end to genocide and for a free Palestine,” according to the website. Signatories include filmmakers and performers with projects at the Sundance.
On Friday evening, the hostage initiative Bring Them Home partnered with an Evening of Solidarity event in Park City. According to event organizer Jacob Shwirtz, the event lasted three hours and was something he “will never forget as long as I live,” per his Instagram. It served to shine a spotlight on the hostages being held since they were captured Oct. 7 by militant group Hamas while attending the Nova music festival.
“We succeeded in bringing the story of the hostage crisis to the center of the Sundance Film Festival,” he posted. “There were tears and hugs and emotion and stories, and I truly believe it was an unforgettable, powerful experience.”
Actress Emmanuelle Chriqui offered words during the program by saying, “We are mighty, and there is so much being done. Tonight, you walk away amplifying all of these messages so that we bring them home now.”
Filmmaker Allison Norlian attended and also shared thoughts on Instagram, writing, “Last night, instead of attending another screening, party or panel, we gathered in solidarity with the hostages and their families. We listened to the parents and brother of two hostages still being held in Gaza and one woman who escaped the Nova music festival. It was emotional and raw, and my heart is broken for all these people have been through and continue to go through.”
Another event that put a spotlight on Israel came courtesy of the Shabbat Lounge which hosted a Filmmakers Against Anti-Semitism panel discussion on Sunday in partnership with the Jewish Filmmaker Network.
Other protests that have hit Park City during the Sundance Film Festival include the Women’s March in 2017, attended and organized by Chelsea Handler, and a Red State protest outside the premiere of the Kevin Smith film.
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