A scene from Gift of fire
A scene from Gift of Fire that will be shown only to female-only audiences.Seret.org.uk

An Israeli film has been withdrawn from screening at Odeon cinemas after its ultra-Orthodox female director demanded that only women be allowed to view it.

Gift of Fire, directed by Rechy Elias, was due to be shown at Odeon Swiss Cottage, in north London, as part of Seret, an annual Israeli film festival in Britain. Odeon declined to accept Elias's conditions, and the festival organiser withdrew it, reported the Jewish Chronicle.

Although the organisers believed they had Odeon's permission to have a women-only audience, the cinema group told the JC: "We do not, and will not, restrict entry to any film based on gender. We only restrict entry to our screenings based on age – as laid out in legislation around BBFC ratings."

The co-founders of the festival, Odelia Haroush, Anat Koren and Patty Hochmann, released a statement, saying that they "could not accommodate Elias's religious requirements and enable the cinema to maintain its policy not to restrict entry to any film based on gender.

"The film contains women dancing and singing, and the Charedi [ultra-Orthodox] community, and indeed many religious Jews, do not feel that men should be watching this.

"We respect the position of the filmmaker and the cinema alike, but have decided at this time we need to honour both parties and the only way to do so is to cancel the screening at Odeon Swiss Cottage."

They added: "We thank Odeon Swiss Cottage for their continued support of the festival and are pleased that other fantastic films from the festival will be hosted there."

Complaints - and a male defence

The ban on men had attracted complaints from some festival-goers, with one, David Lass, telling the JC: "I asked them if they would offer a male-only screening giving men the chance and they declined."

However, the film may still be shown at JW3, the Jewish community centre in Hampstead, but only to a women-only audience.

JW3 chief executive, Raymond Simonson defended the ban.

He said: "Whilst [the ban on men] may be very challenging to many of us, we are proud to be able to provide a platform for a female film director from the Charedi community to be able to express herself artistically, as well as a safe environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this extraordinary film."