TV Academies Urge U.S. State Department To Grant ‘The Cave’ Director’s Visa

Patrick Hipes

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UPDATED at 6:19 p.m. PT with statement from U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs: We can report that the appropriate U.S. Embassy has been in touch with Mr. Fayyad’s attorneys to obtain the remaining documents needed in order to complete the processing of his application. The Department wishes to assure you that Mr. Fayyad’s case is being given every possible consideration consistent with U.S. immigration law.”

The Television Academy and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences have teamed on a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to act on journalists and documentary filmmakers who are “being denied entry into the United States despite recognition by the American television industry.”

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The letter sent Tuesday was focused on Syrian-born The Cave director Feras Fayyad, who was denied a visa to enter the U.S. to support his National Geographic Documentary Films pic, which on Monday was nominated for the Documentary Feature Oscar. It is Fayyad’s second Oscar nomination after 2018’s Last Men in Aleppo, which also won the Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary award at that year’s News & Doc Emmys.

The Cave won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival and already has won this year at the IDA Awards, the Cinema Eye Honors and the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. It is up for a PGA Award on Saturday, but as of now Fayyad won’t be there.

“It appears that these visas may have been denied solely based on applicant nationality. But it is precisely their nationalities that make programs such as those produced by Mr. Fayyad so compelling,” the TV academies wrote (see the full letter here).

‘We urge the State Department to acknowledge the importance of these productions to informing the American television audience and building global awareness, and to waive restrictions that prevent their rightful recognition. The impact of the work and the well-deserved respect of our community handily outweigh blanket policy positions that err in overlooking such individual merit.”

The State Department previously granted Fayyad permission to enter the U.S. for three months in September, when he attended screenings of The Cave at the Camden Film Festival in Maine and AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

After returning to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he lives in exile, Fayyad applied for a new visa at the U.S. embassy there in December. He had hoped to attend the IDA Awards in Hollywood, but Fayyad said a consular official rejected his application.

“‘Your nationality is not allowed to apply for a visa,’” he said the official told him. “I asked, ‘What’s the reason?’ She said, ‘The Executive Order 13769 from the president of the United States.”

That order, issued by President Trump shortly after he took office in 2017 and later amended by Executive Order 13780, prohibited citizens of Syria and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.”

The International Documentary Association wrote a similar letter to Pompeo, urging him to let Fayyad into the country to represent his film. It was signed by IDA executive director Simon Kilmurry and other prominent figures in the documentary field including including Oscar winner Alex Gibney and Academy member Joan Churchill.

The Cave tells the story of Dr. Amani Ballour, the first woman to lead a hospital in Syria, who made heroic efforts to save lives in a subterranean medical facility in Eastern Ghouta as the city sustained constant bombing by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies. Fayyad says Dr. Amani, who fled to Turkey after the Assad regime crushed the last remnants of resistance in Ghouta, has also been denied a visa to visit the U.S.

The Television Academy, based in Los Angeles, oversees the Primetime Emmy Awards, the Creative Arts Emmys and the College Television Awards among others. NATAS, located in New York, oversees the Daytime, News & Documentary and Sports Emmys. Together, the represent about 45,000 U.S. member professionals and 20 regional chapters.

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