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‘Of Fathers and Sons’ Director Talal Derki Denied U.S. Visa, Missing Awards Season Events — Exclusive

Derki has made the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary, but he's unable to participate in any awards season events.

Talal Derki

Talal Derki

Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Update, January 14: Talal Derki has issued the following statement announcing he has finally been approved for a U.S. visa:  “Today I received my visa to travel to the United States at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. I do not know why it was delayed for so long, and I do not know why I suddenly received it today, but I want to thank all of you who reached out to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. diplomats on my behalf, and also everyone who posted about my case and showed solidarity on social media. I do not think that this timing is a coincidence! Thank you so much for all of your support!”

Earlier: Talal Derki had a remarkable 2018 thanks to his documentary “Of Fathers and Sons,” which started the year by winning a Sundance Grand Jury Prize and ended it by securing a spot on the highly-coveted Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary. In between, Derki picked up nominations from the European Film Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards, and he won the German Documentary Award. The new year should be a time of celebration for Derki, and yet he’s been unable to participate in any awards season events because he’s been barred from entering America by the U.S. government.

As “Of Fathers and Sons” executive producer Dan Cogan explains in a statement below exclusive to IndieWire, the U.S. government has denied Derki the visa he needs to come to America and participate in Oscar season events. Derki has already missed the Independent Spirit Awards luncheon, and he will be unable to attend the prestigious Cinema Eye Honors ceremony tonight, where “Of Fathers and Sons” is nominated in three categories, including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking and Outstanding Achievement in Direction.

“Of Fathers and Sons” follows Derki, a native Syrian, as he embeds himself in a radical Islamist family and documents the daily lives of its members, particularly the two children. In order to gain access to his subjects, Derki pretended to support the Jihadist cause. Derki’s efforts have made him a darling of the awards circuit and he’s a contender for an Oscar nomination.

Below, Cogan praises Derki’s efforts behind “Of Fathers and Sons” and speaks out about the failure to secure a visa for the filmmaker.

To my friends and compatriots in the documentary community –

This is Talal Derki. Over the past few years, I have become very close to this extraordinary Syrian filmmaker. He has won not one but two Grand Jury Prizes for Best Documentary at Sundance — the first was for the unforgettable RETURN TO HOMS and the most recent — just last year — for the astonishing OF FATHERS AND SONS. He also happens to be a person of extraordinary depth, sensitivity, and soul. We worked on OF FATHERS AND SONS together and I hope it is just the first of many films I will have the great pleasure of making with him.

Talal holds a Syrian passport and is currently living in exile in Berlin. He was meant to be in the United States right now, but instead he is stuck in Germany as the visa he needs to enter the United States, since he is still a Syrian citizen, has not been granted to him. He should be in New York this very night, where he is supposed to be a presenter at the Cinema Eye Honors, and where he is also a nominee, but he will not be there because he is still waiting to receive a visa that he was told as recently as last month should not be a problem.

Why is his visa not being granted? We don’t know. Could it possibly be that the current American administration is slow-boating any visas for citizens of the largely Muslim country of Syria? Do they understand that this is a filmmaker — a secular Syrian of Kurdish descent — who risked his life to go undercover and spend two years with the family of a terrorist to explore the lives of his children, and the impact of his murderous teachings on their young lives? This is an incredibly brave man who risked everything to tell us stories of the other side — an artist whom we should be welcoming and celebrating — who instead is stuck unable to tell the world about his film because of our government’s irrational fear and loathing.

Talal sought to show us, in a non-judgmental and deeply human way, what the lives of those we think of as our enemies are really like. We are all much worse off if we remain ignorant of their realities. If you have relationships or contacts with those who could be helpful in securing the necessary visa, please contact me. We want Talal here with us.

And as a tribute to Talal, I hope you will watch his films. They are astonishing works of cinema.

Yours truly,
Dan Cogan

“Of Fathers and Sons” is now playing in select theaters from Kino Lorber. The 2019 Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 22.

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