IDA comes to defense of 'Last Men in Aleppo' filmmakers, slams Trump administration for denying travel visa to producer
IDA joins Motion Picture Academy protesting visa denial
The International Documentary Association is defending -- on two fronts -- the Syrian filmmakers behind Last Men in Aleppo and the subjects of their documentary, the courageous White Helmets.
The IDA issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the Trump administration's decision to deny a travel visa to Kareem Abeed, producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary. The State Department reportedly denied the application in accordance with the administration's immigration ban on several predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria.
We at the International Documentary Association stand behind Fayyad and Abeed.
"We urge the State Department and the Trump Administration to reconsider the decision and grant Abeed a visa," the IDA wrote.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences issued a similar statement Tuesday:
"For 90 years, the Oscars have celebrated achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic, or religious differences. As supporters of filmmakers — and the human rights of all people — around the globe, we stand in solidarity with Fayyad as well as the film’s producer Kareem Abeed, who was denied a visa to the United States to attend the Academy Awards on March 4."
The IDA's defense of Fayyad went further than the Academy's. The documentary organization also pointed out the director has become the target of a scurrilous effort to discredit him, his film and the White Helmets, describing the campaign as "a sustained and withering online disinformation attack from a legion of Russian, pro-Russian and pro-Assad trolls."
The statement added, "This smear campaign, similar to one waged against the Oscar-winning The White Helmets in 2017, labels Fayyad a terrorist sympathizer, a spy, a liar, and much worse. In addition, The Guardian's Olivia Solon, who recently reported on the campaign, is now a target herself."
In an interview with Nonfictionfilm.com, Fayyad said, "Most of this disinformation was attacking the subjects of the film, and my relation with the subjects of the film and they try to make the people not trust me as the filmmaker and... lose their trust in the film. When you search [online] about Last Men in Aleppo literally you will find 10 attacks on me and attacks the film and the positive reviews will disappear."
Fayyad told Nonfictionfilm.com his film drew the ire of Russian authorities because it celebrates the work of the White Helmets, civil defense workers who risk their lives to rescue people injured in relentless bombing runs by Russian and Syrian government forces. On occasion as the White Helmets have dug through rubble they have found remnants of Russian ordnance, proving the Kremlin's connection to the wholesale slaughter of civilians.
Here is the full statement from the IDA:
Statement in Support of Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and 'Last Men in Aleppo'
Academy Award nominated documentary Last Men In Aleppo; its director, Feras Fayyad and the protagonists of the film, The White Helmets, are under a sustained and withering online disinformation attack from a legion of Russian, pro-Russian and pro-Assad trolls. This smear campaign, similar to one waged against the Oscar-winning The White Helmets in 2017, labels Fayyad a terrorist sympathizer, a spy, a liar, and much worse. In addition, The Guardian's Olivia Solon, who recently reported on the campaign, is now a target herself.
We also received word today that the U.S. has denied the visa for one of the film's Oscar-nominated producers, Kareem Abeed, a Syrian national, under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a provision used by President Trump as the basis for his "travel ban." We urge the State Department and the Trump Administration to reconsider the decision and grant Abeed a visa.
Feras Fayyad is in the U.S. and plans to attend the Academy Awards ceremony.
We at the International Documentary Association stand behind Fayyad and Abeed. They are exemplary artists who have introduced us, at great risk to themselves, to a corps of ordinary people -- construction workers, cab drivers, teachers -- who have gone to extraordinary lengths to save their friends, neighbors and family members from the daily carnage. "We are just making art," Fayyad told us over the phone from San Francisco. "We're telling stories about brotherhood and friendship and people who want to survive against the war machine. We're telling the truth."
Artists throughout history are often the first casualties in their missions to challenge us to be bolder and better. They are more than deserving of our gratitude and support.
We strongly support Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and their team's right of creative expression.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.