March 3, 2009 / 5:20 AM / 10 years ago

Australian cinemas increase security for race movie

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian cinema chain has drafted extra security in order to resume screenings of a film about 2005 race riots between ethnic Lebanese-Australians and white youths after fighting broke out at two theater sessions.

Greater Union pulled all showings of “The Combination” at cinemas in Sydney after violence among the audience led to a security guard requiring hospital treatment and a staff member being injured.

But the cinema chain, owned by Amalgamated Holdings Ltd, was criticized for canceling the film, which opened nationally Thursday, and on Tuesday said it would resume screenings in four Sydney theaters, with extra security.

“Our staff and patrons were placed in an environment they were not comfortable with from a personal safety perspective,” Greater Union’s general manager of operations, Robert Flynn, said in a statement.

“This is not acceptable. Until we were able to address these concerns properly and implement additional security measures, the decision was made to suspend sessions of this film.”

The film’s distributor, Australian Film Syndicate, said it would work with Greater Union Cinemas to provide additional security for the movie and special introductions at selected screenings by the film’s screenwriter, George Basha.

Australia is a nation built of migrants, but simmering ethnic tension exploded in Sydney in December 2005 when gangs of white surfers and ethnic Lebanese clashed in alcohol-fueled riots on Cronulla Beach.

This led to a series of retaliatory attacks in which churches, shops and cars were destroyed. Police said white supremacists incited the violence.

“The Combination,” an independent film that received no government funding, examines tensions between gangs of ethnic Lebanese and white youths in Sydney’s western suburbs.

It uses real news footage from the riots as it follows the story of a Lebanese-Australian man released from prison and trying to steer his younger brother away from ethnic gang violence and the local underworld.

Australian film critic David Stratton said “The Combination” has “a powerful message,” adding that canceling its screenings was an “an extreme reaction, a knee-jerk reaction.”

“It’s akin to shooting the messenger. Good films are meant to provoke and challenge, and that is what this film does,” he wrote in The Australian newspaper.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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