New York Times Tuesday October 1
One Visa Problem Costs a Festival Two Filmmakers
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
he internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami, who won
the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1997 for "A Taste of Cherry," was unable to get
a United States visa in time to attend the premiere of his new film, "Ten,"
at the New York Film Festival last Saturday, prompting his friend and fellow
director Aki Kaurismaki of Finland to boycott the festival in protest.
"If international cultural exchange is prevented, what is left?" asked Mr.
Kaurismaki, whose new film "The Man Without a Past" will be shown at this
year's festival. "The exchange of arms?"
Mr. Kiarostami, 62, who has been to the United States seven times in the
course of his career, was told this month at the United States Embassy in
Paris that the earliest he could get permission to come into the country was
Stringent new rules, put in place after last year's terrorist attacks, now
require a three-month background check on some applicants for United States
visas, in particular those from Muslim countries.
After news of Mr. Kiarostami's visa problems circulated in Europe, Mr.
Kaurismaki announced that he would stay away from the festival as a gesture
of solidarity. In a prepared statement, he wrote, "Not with anger (which has
never brought anything good) but with deep sorrow" he had learned that the
Iranian director was refused a visa because of his citizenship.
If the United States authorities do not want "an Iranian, they will hardly
have any use for a Finn, either," he wrote. "We do not even have the oil."
The new visa requirements have created a logjam in the approval process,
both at the regional offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
and at United States consulates overseas.
The backup has left performers, students and academics stranded, while
wreaking havoc on cultural programs across the country and throwing future
plans into doubt. "The reaction that this has engendered makes you wonder
what the sense of this policy is," said Richard Peña, director of the New
York Film Festival, which opened on Sept. 27.
Mr. Peña said Mr. Kiarostami had traveled to Paris to apply for the visa
because the United States had no diplomatic representation in Iran. But when
he was told that his application would undergo the three-month background
check, he refused to make any special appeal on the ground that his career
as a film director should speak for itself, Mr. Peña said. "If that wasn't
good enough, then he was not going to come," he said.
Last summer several members of an Iranian theatrical troupe, scheduled to
perform at the Lincoln Center Festival, were denied visas on the grounds
that they might decide to stay in the United States as economic refugees.
And just last month Chucho Valdés, a Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist from
Cuba, was denied entry into the United States for a series of fall
performances, because he, too, had to submit to a lengthy screening process.
Mr. Valdés was one of 22 Cuban musicians who were unable to obtain visas in
time to attend the Latin Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.