Montréal, Saturday, July 7, 2018 — Following the controversy and cancellation of performances of SLĀV, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal believes it is important to explain its position and its resulting decision.
As a presenter, the Festival purchases shows from various producers, then programming them in venues which it rents, or on one of its outdoor stages, a bit like a film festival that programs and screens films it did not produce.
The Festival is therefore not involved in creating the content of the 500 events presented during the 11 days and nights of its program. It does not preapprove any content beforehand, and allows artists complete artistic freedom. This is the case for all the artists who perform at the Festival. All are masters of their creation and responsible for the production of their show. And if their work provokes a reaction, they can choose whether or not to defend it. In the case of SLĀV, the show was created by Betty Bonifassi and Robert Lepage and produced by Ex Machina.
We decided to program this work in the wake of the success and praise generated by Betty Bonifassi’s show Lomax, which we presented free last summer on the Place des Festivals. That free outdoor event was acclaimed by tens of thousands of people, including many from a wide range of communities.
Huffington Post Québec had then ranked the show among its 15 Must-See Shows during the 2017 Festival. The Montreal Gazette had also numbered it among its must-see shows.
We remind you that this show was presented 73 times in Québec, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. And at this, we are talking about markets including Toronto, New York and Paris, without provoking anything like the reaction we have witnessed over the last few days.
That is why we were initially surprised by the turn of events at the June 26 preview. After the first performances, Ms Bonifassi was seriously injured and had to undergo emergency surgery. As a result, we were forced to cancel four performances.
Meanwhile, the Festival had been listening, and received hundreds of testimonials and comments from communities across Montréal, Canada, the U.S. and the rest of the world.
We found that the debate was much deeper than the SLĀV show itself… that many people and even artists spoke out on this important sociocultural subject.
We understood that the wounds of the past were still very much alive for many of our fellow citizens, wounds often deep and justified.
Fears that the situation was intensifying became a genuine concern, especially given the FIJM is renowned as an inclusive, peaceful and safe event.
Last Wednesday morning, we had to make a decision; whether or not to re-launch performances of the show during the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.
We knew that whatever our decision, the situation would remain tense for the people concerned, notably our partners, because as we remind you, we are presenters and not producers or creators of the project.
We do not feel that we have given in to censorship, as it is important to note that our decision only addresses performances scheduled during the festival, and in no way implies that the show will not be presented in future.
Therefore, an ensemble of human and technical elements was considered and weighed in making our final decision.
On Wednesday morning, Betty Bonifassi informed us that under those current circumstances (with her injury and the ever-escalating crisis), she was no longer in a position to make the final performances the Festival.
On security, the Festival takes the issue of public safety very seriously: the safety of its employees, its partners, and of course the artists and audience, as well as those who came to protest.
We therefore had to take into account all possible eventualities if performances continued.
The management team of Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM), whose venue we had rented, were likewise concerned for the safety and security of all.
In that context and in the face of these major issues, we therefore decided to cancel the performances presented as part of the Festival. We have come to an agreement with Ex Machina and the TNM to share the financial loss between us, in order to ensure that all craftspeople artists can be paid as agreed.
Despite the cancellation of this show, we are proud to be associated with Ex Machina, international jewel of our culture, and legendary director Robert Lepage, whom we hugely admire and whose work remains essential. We have never questioned the quality of his work.
The Festival has also admired the work and approach of Betty Bonifassi for 15 years. We find it remarkable how moving and important her songs are to so many thousands of listeners. We also find it remarkable that her work inspires and allows us to have conversations that are essential to all of us – particularly since the Festival has always been committed to programming artists from all origins and backgrounds, especially the black community.
Going forward, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal intends to continue listening to the testimonials and comments of those who felt hurt or upset, as well as those who were disappointed by our decision to cancel the performances.
We have already had a constructive meeting with a number of members of Montréal’s black community on these issues. And we wish to continue this essential dialogue. Our point of view is simple: issues of race must be discussed openly. We must take the time to communicate in order to better understand one another and do better in future.
For the past 39 years, the Festival has always tried to so, and has often succeeded… And we intend to continue in that direction.
The 40th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal will be held from June 27 to July 7, 2019.
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