Syrian director Firas Fayyad was denied an entry visa to the U.S. due to his nationality and despite having his work shortlisted for the Oscars. Under President Donald Trump's administration, people holding passports from Muslim-majority Syria, Yemen, Iran, Libya, and Somalia either have difficulties entering the U.S. or are simply turned down.
Last year, Fayyad became the first Syrian director to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for his film Last Men in Aleppo. Come 2019, the talented filmmaker is up for another Oscar with his recent work The Cave being shortlisted for the Documentary Feature category.
In a Facebook post he uploaded on Sunday, Fayyad explained that his application was rejected because he's a holder of a Syrian passport. He spoke of the trauma he still suffers from after having been imprisoned in one of the Syrian regime's torture prisons after he was caught filming footage of 2011 protests that erupted in his home country.
To him, his films are his words to the world.
"THE CAVE is my only platform to confront WHO TORTURE [sic] ME, who took over and occupy [sic] my childhood and family house and my freedom that I'm still here and I'll GET THE JUSTICE," Fayyad wrote.
The director who's currently living in Denmark urged cinema-goers in the U.S. to support his film since he can't be in the country to do so.
The Cave tells the moving story of Syrian female doctors who claim their right to work as equals alongside male colleagues in a patriarchal society that permeates war-ridden Syria. The documentary follows the lives of pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues Samaher and Dr. Alaa as they save lives in an underground medical center. Together they defy odds under "daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks."
The film premiered back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the People's Choice Award for Documentaries. Earlier this month, Fayyad and The Cave's co-writer Alisar Hasan won the Best Writing award at the International Documentary Association.
The film is now set to compete for several other prestigious awards in the U.S.
"I should be attending the IDA (International Documentary Association) and Cinema Eye Honours, where I am also a nominee, alongside [a number of] events to represent The Cave […] but I can't because of the visa," Fayyad lamented in his Facebook post.
An increasing number of Arab artists are being denied visas to the U.S
Last year, the producer of Fayyad's Last Men in Aleppo, Kareem Abeed, was initially barred from entering the U.S. due to Trump’s travel ban. Following an appeal, he was granted a visa days before the Oscars ceremony.
A rising number of filmmakers and artists from the region are facing problems when attempting to enter the country to attend events and awards ceremonies.
Earlier this year, Syrian-Kurdish filmmaker Talal Derki was denied a visa to the U.S. and missed several events aimed at highlighting his Oscars shortlisted film Of Fathers and Sons.
Though Derki was granted a visa after several people contacted the U.S. embassy in Berlin on his behalf, he missed the prestigious Cinema Eye Honors ceremony, where his film was nominated in three categories including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking and Outstanding Achievement in Direction.
Many now hope Fayyad will be granted a visa if he decides to appeal the decision.