Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan, and Alex Gibney lend their support as the festival calls for the men’s release by Egyptian authorities.
This morning, TIFF artistic director Noah Cowan joined Booker Prize winning novelist Michael Ondaatje and lauded filmmakers Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan, and Alex Gibney in a press conference to call for the release of Toronto filmmaker John Greyson and his colleague Tarek Loubani. Greyson was working on a documentary about Loubani, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Western University currently based at the main hospital at the Gaza Strip, when both men were arrested on August 16 after asking for directions to their hotel at an Egyptian police station. Though they have not been formally charged, they’ve been held since, in a cell with 38 others, according to Greyson’s sister, Cecilia.
The festival, Cowan emphasized, works best as a forum for the free exchange of ideas, which is impossible when artists like Greyson—who famously withdrew his short film from TIFF in 2009 in protest of the City to City programme’s spotlight on Tel Aviv—are imprisoned and left without a voice. The panel assembled to support the rising chorus of artists asking for his release and safe return, reading an open letter signed by filmmakers as diverse as Ben Affleck, Errol Morris, and Jafar Panahi.
Egoyan and Polley vouched for Greyson as a highly esteemed member of Toronto’s artistic community, a filmmaker concerned with humanitarian issues, and a good friend. Gibney, an Academy Award winner whose film about Lance Armstrong is currently screening at the festival, pointed out that documentary filmmakers go all around the world for their work, and need to do so knowing that the international community has their backs.
Ondaatje spoke on behalf of the literary community and supporters like Alice Munro, Noam Chomsky, and Dionne Brand, citing writers’ need “to go to dangerous places in the real world as well as their imagination.” Artists, he added, have a special responsibility to protest when human rights are violated.
Through their lawyers, Greyson’s sister has established that the men are in good health, but after three weeks with no major progress, she remains concerned for their safety and well-being. Supporters are asked to sign a petition calling for the men’s immediate release, which has already been signed by over 100,000 people and supported by over 100 organizations like the World Medical Association. For more information, visit tarekandjohn.com.
The text of the open letter Greyson and Loubani’s supporters have drafted:
As members of the international cultural and academic communities, we call for the immediate release of our peers, Prof. John Greyson, and his colleague Dr. Tarek Loubani, from custody in Egypt. John Greyson is a renowned artist whose films have screened at over 500 festivals around the world and garnered prizes at Berlin, Locarno, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Toronto, among others. He has received the Bell Canada Award, the highest national honour for lifetime contribution to video art. In 2012, the Toronto International Film Festival honoured him with a retrospective, and this spring McGill-Queen’s University Press published an anthology celebrating his contribution to Canadian and international cinema. John is a tenured professor in the film department of York University, Toronto, where he is a well-loved teacher and mentor.
Prof. Greyson was arrested in Cairo on his way to make a film in Gaza with Dr. Tarek Loubani, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario. Dr. Loubani has for the last two years conducted an academic and medical collaboration between Western University Hospital’s emergency department and the al-Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in the Gaza Strip. This project has seen Canadian doctors train Palestinian physicians in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). With each visit Dr. Loubani has brought witnesses to observe conditions in Gaza. This year he invited Prof. Greyson. On arriving in Cairo on Friday, August 16 they found the border to Gaza shut. They were arrested the next day while asking for directions at a police station.
We are respectfully asking the Egyptian authorities to release Prof. Greyson and Dr. Loubani.