Filmmakers Atom Egoyan, Alex Gibney, and Sarah Polley joined John Greyson's sister, Cecilia Greyson, TIFF Lightbox head Noah Cowan and the writer Michael Ondaatje to represent the arts and filmmaking community's plea to release filmmaker John Greyson and his friend Dr. Tarek Loubani from their holding cell in Egypt.
While Greyson and Loubani were taking a trip to the Gaza Strip, Greyson was to document Loubani's work as a doctor in the region, the pair was kept out of the region because of activity on the strip. They stayed in Egypt (traveling via Egypt is how Loubani always travelled to the Gaza Strip), and Loubani performed work as unrest continued in Cairo.
Greyson is a Canadian filmmaker behind such seminal films as "Lilies" and "Zero Patience." Though his was one of the loudest voices in the film community for a radical politics, Greyson is also known as one of the most caring, thoughtful filmmakers working today, always eager to engage others, even those who disagree with him, in conversation.
It was this attribute that Atom Egoyan mentioned when he spoke of Greyson. "I've known John for 30 years. We've all had very passionate disagreements with John. We don't always agree with his politics." But, he continued, "we must fiercely defended his freedom of expression...and communicate his profound humanitarian concerns. John is first and foremost a deeply feeling human being who has produced a profound body of work."
Greyson's sister Cecilia told the crowd of supporters and journalists that her brother is in a cell outside of Cairo, which is currently holding 38 people. While she noted that the region Greyson and Loubani are being held in has a backlog of court cases to deal with, she also noted that the pair has been held without being charged. Tomorrow, a meeting is scheduled between the prosecutors and the pair's lawyers.
Also at the conference, U.S. documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side") reminded the audience how important it is to defend the free expression and journalism of filmmakers like Greyson. Gibney noted, "Doc filmmakers go all over the world, sometimes to very dangerous places. It's important to know that the international community of artists has your back."
As Cecilia Greyson noted, it's not clear what form Greyson's project with Loubani would take. "He's always working on ten things at once," she said.
Representing writers from around the world, from Jonathan Lethem and George Saunders to Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein, "The English Patient" writer Michael Ondaatje reminded all artists how important it is to defend the pursuit of artists: "Writers and artists travel to dangerous places in the real world as well as their imagination...To benefit from and also to support [Greyson's] work we have to defend his desire to [travel to dangerous places]."
Filmmaker and actress Sarah Polley thought back to the first time she met Greyson: "I first met John Greyson when I was a teenager. I was so struck by his gentleness and his openness... I was in awe of his work. His film "Lilies" changed the way I looked at the medium of film. He had such a bold and limitless imagination. He is such an integral part of this community." Polley held up a badge that Loubani's hospital co-workers have been wearing, saying that his co-workers can't wait until "their very own Patch Adams comes home."
According to Cecilia Greyson, such meetings have been scheduled in the past, and because of the heavy backlog have had to be rescheduled. Greyson and Loubani are currently in good health.
The two have been in a prison outside of Cairo for nearly a month now. Supporters are eager to get 150,000 signatures on their online Change.org petition. For up-to-date information from Greyson and Loubani's supporters, visit the Free Tarek and John website.
Here's the open letter that various members of the filmmaking community, including Ben Affleck, Danny Glover, Mira Nair, Charlize Theron, Wim Wenders, and Jafar Panahi, have signed in support of the release of Greyson and Loubani:
As members of the international cultural and academic communities, we call for the immediate release of our peers, Prof. John Greyson, and his colleague Dr. Tarek Loubani, from custody in Egypt. John Greyson is a renowned artist whose films have screened at over 500 festivals around the world and garnered prizes at Berlin, Locarno, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Toronto, among others. He has received the Bell Canada Award, the highest national honor for lifetime contribution to Canadian and international cinema. John is a tenured professor in the Film Department of York University, Toronto, where he is a well-loved teacher and mentor.
Prof. Greyson was arrested in Cariro on his way to make a film in Gaza with Dr. Tarek Loubani, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Schulich School of of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Dr. Loubani has for the last two years conducted an academic and medical collaboration between Western University Hospital's emergency department and the al-Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in the Gaza Strip. This project has seen Canadian doctors train Palestinian physicians in Advanced Cardiac Support (ACLS and Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). With each visit Dr. Loubani has brought witness to observe conditions in in Gaa. This year he invited Prof. Greyson. On arriving in Cairo on Friday, August 15 they found the border to Gaza shut. They were arrested the next day while asking for directions at a police station.
We are respectfully asking the Egyptian authorities to release Prof. Greyson and Dr. Loubani immediately.