It didn’t take long for Middle Eastern filmmakers to respond to President Donald Trump’s executive order last week restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Within days of the order, both Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of the Oscar-nominated “The Salesman,” and the film’s lead actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, had announced that they would not be attending the 2017 Academy Awards 2017 in protest of the recently signed executive order. But while this was the highest profile response, it was hardly the only one.
Other announcements followed from filmmakers who were being blocked from attending U.S. award shows or festival premieres of their work. Iranian director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s film “Sonita” is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, but Ghaemmaghami won’t be able to attend the February 25 ceremony.
“It seems that there is not any possibility to get a visa and travel to the United States at the moment,” Ghaemmaghami told IndieWire. Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow” is also nominated for Best International Film, but Anvari is not expected to be able to attend the awards. The movie is Britain’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
Even before the executive order was signed, Hussein Hassan, the director of the Iraqi film “Reseba” aka “The Dark Wind,” encountered a number of delays when trying to obtain a visa to attend the North American premiere of his film at the Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival. After being told he needed to re-submit his visa application due to an undisclosed problem, Hassan withdrew his application as an act of peaceful protest. “The Dark Wind” is a drama about radical Islamist militants who attack a village in Iraq where a young couple prepares for marriage.
“Hussein Hassan shot his film ‘Reseba’ – ‘The Dark Wind’ at the front line of the war between the Kurds and the so called Islamic State,” Mehmet Aktas, the film’s producer, said in a statement. “We as Kurdish filmmakers hope that Donald Trump will acknowledge the Kurdish people.”
For Evgeny Afineevsky, a U.S. citizen and the director of the Sundance documentary “Cries From Syria,” about the Syrian civil war, Trump’s executive order relies on fundamentally faulty logic.
“What our president actually doesn’t understand is that to fight ISIS, you need to fight the ideology, not just look at the people who come into this country,” Afineevsky told IndieWire. “They have people whom they can brainwash remotely. I saw how they brainwashed them.” HBO’s “Cries From Syria” draws on hundreds of hours of war footage shot by Syrian activists and citizen journalists.
Trump’s executive order can also have the direct opposite effect of preventing violence by contributing to additional radicalization, Afineevsky added. “It’s going to bring out the anger of the people and can resonate in all kinds of bad situations,” he said. “To ban people from entering the country is the most simple thing to do, but to learn about them, learn about their background and understand who is a real danger for the American society just takes time.”
Iranian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor Mani Haghighi (“A Dragon Arrives!”) also views the immigration restriction as not only untenable, but something that is bound to backfire. “All of these cultural wars that are taking place can only be addressed through cultural exchange, so it just seems completely counterintuitive to stop the movement of ideas,”Haghighi said. ” It just seems like it’s going to reveal itself as something absurd and impractical, and then we’re going to pick up the pieces.”
While Haghighi expects more protests from filmmakers and other groups around the world, he said the most significant change is likely to come from the internal contradictions of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country like the U.S. adopting an isolationist policy. “The thing that’s going to bring this to a stop is the internal contradictions of the ideology itself,” he said. “It’s going to be a self-destructive shit show, and I’m frankly kind of looking forward to watching that unfold.”
Shamal Sabri, a Kurdish film producer and the artistic director of the Duhok International Film Festival in Iraq, told IndieWire that the executive order is bound to bring more racist thinking to the U.S. “Preventing a filmmaker from coming to the U.S. because he is an Iraqi or Muslim is just a new kind of racism in modern life,” Sabri said, adding that ignoring another country’s culture is bound to come with consequences. “Culture was the only thing that cut across borders, cut across racism, cut across terrorism and cut across politics.”
While trying to find a silver lining in the wake of Trump’s executive order may seem futile, “The Dark Wind” line producer Janna Heine noted that shutting down the cultural exchange between certain countries is something that could rouse a larger movement than anyone today might expect.
“Maybe it was necessary to wake the entire world up and show them not to be silent,” Heine said. “I hope that we are currently facing something than can go from breakdown to breakthrough.”
Additional reporting by Anthony Kaufman.