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Kyla Wise

For film festivals that take place in September and October, it's a potential calendar clash that comes to pass every few years or so. This year it is the Vancouver International Film Festival's turn.

VIFF finds its opening night coinciding with the Jewish New Year, with a gala screening and party held on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 25. Further, as the festival continues, its VIFF Industry conference is being held on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur – and that has had implications in terms of attracting film industry participants.

"Obviously, we didn't realize it was Rosh Hashanah; our dates have been the same dates for at least 20 years," says VIFF executive director Jacqueline Dupuis. "It's certainly not planned, certainly not purposeful in any way,"

It was the conflict on Yom Kippur – a solemn fast day during which Jewish people atone for their sins of the past year – which initially alerted the festival to the problem within the past couple of months.

"We were receiving a lot of regrets from guests that we were trying to bring up to VIFF Industry," Ms. Dupuis says. "And then from there, we obviously discovered that the opening dates, the 26th and the 27th, fall on the High Holidays as well."

Jewish holidays, which follow the Hebrew calendar, begin at sundown on the evening beforehand, so Rosh Hashanah this year starts Sept. 24 at sundown and ends Sept. 26 at sundown.

Actress Kyla Wise (Intelligence) has written a letter of protest to VIFF, explaining to organizers that opening the festival on Rosh Hashanah is equivalent to opening VIFF on Christmas Eve.

"It just felt like, really? Is Judaism not a major religion? Is it really not that important?" Ms. Wise told The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Dupuis responded to the letter, and told Ms. Wise that she is open to speaking further by phone.

Larry Sugar, a TV and film producer and former VIFF board member who has clashed with the festival on this issue in the past, says it is "inconceivable" to him that the festival could not have moved its opening gala by one night.

Opening night will include a ceremony honouring VIFF founder Leonard Schein with membership in the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and a star on Granville Street. Mr. Schein, who is Jewish, says he has no problem with the gala being on the second night of Rosh Hashanah – which he believes many Jewish people don't observe – but says he would have felt differently if it had fallen on the first night of the holiday.

But Brightlight Pictures chairman Shawn Williamson felt it was a conflict, and he has moved his annual film industry party, which for years has coincided with the first night of VIFF, to the Friday night, even though that will nearly double the cost – an additional expense in the six-figures. He wanted "to be respectful of the Jewish holiday," he says.

"There are all kinds of people who wouldn't attend that night," he says. "Obviously we are a multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious industry, but traditionally it's been a heavily Jewish industry and Hollywood shuts down over the High Holidays."

This is the problem festival officials ran up against repeatedly as they were trying to book guests for VIFF Industry. The industry portion of VIFF, which runs four days, has been scheduled at different points over the 16-day film festival.

Ms. Dupuis says she now wishes they had considered the Jewish holidays when setting the conference dates, and says the festival will do so in the future.

"Certainly, the industry dates are flexible so we can schedule those around the High Holidays and that's obviously incredibly important from the industry perspective; I can't stress that enough," she says. "In terms of the galas and events, I think we're just going to have to address that as we go along with increased awareness."

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