A scene from Gift of fire
A scene from Gift of Fire whose director Rechy Elias wants it to be shown only to female-only audiencesSeret.org.uk

A London Jewish community centre has reversed its decision to allow the screening of a film to a women-only audience after a complaint to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The ultra-Orthodox maker of Gift of Fire, Rechy Elias, had stipulated that it could be shown only to women-only audiences. Last week, Odeon Swiss Cottage said it would not allow gender segregation, forcing organisers of Seret, the London Israel Film Festival, to pull the screening.

Now, however, the Jewish Chronicle has reported that Jewish community centre JW3 announced it had made the "regrettable" decision on legal advice after a complaint had been received by the Equalities Commission.

JW3 chief executive Raymond Simonson said: "Following the one and only complaint we received from a gentleman who also contacted the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, we took legal advice. Unfortunately, it seems that showing this film only to female-only audiences would indeed be in breach of UK equality laws, which we would of course never intentionally do.

"Gift of Fire has been screened to thousands of women over the world without ever encountering such problems. We hope it will be seen by many more. We hope that Seret will be able to offer the film as a private invite-only event, which would be within the law."

The person who made the complaint, David Lass, described by the Jewish Chronicle as a regular festival-goer told the paper he "very much regretted the outcome".

He said: "I would have welcomed a compromise solution allowing two screenings, one for women and one for men, but the organisers would not allow it."

Hampstead-based JW3 said in a statement: "We had hoped to able to provide this rare platform for a Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] female film maker to express herself artistically, as well as a 'safe' environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this unique film."