‘The Cave’ Director Feras Fayyad Misses TCA Panel After Being Detained by Immigration Police

Michael Schneider

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“The Cave” director Feras Fayyad, who was supposed to be at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Friday, failed to make a National Geographic panel for the show — after being prevented from entering the United States over the status of his visa.

In a statement read by producer Sigrid Dyekjar, it was revealed that his aunt’s house was bombed in Syria. He headed to Turkey to be close to his family, and then returned to Denmark two days ago when he “had positive indications the [United States] embassy was willing to revisit his case.”

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But Fayyad was detained by immigration police in Copenhagen. Dyekjar said she rushed to the airport, where Fayyad told her the police used unnecessary force in detaining him. Fayyad was released in her custody.

The Syrian filmmaker was not able to attend the International Documentary Association’s Documentary Awards in Los Angeles to accept his prize for best writing for “The Cave.”

“The Cave,” which was just nominated for an Oscar, comes from Fayyad and his primary cinematographers Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Sulaiman and Mohammed Eyad, who followed Dr. Amani Ballor, a pediatrician and the manager of an underground hospital in war-torn Al Ghouta, as she tended to patients and tried to maintain morale as bombs dropped all around her and her team. Between 2012 and 2018, they shot roughly 1,000 hours of material.

The news of Fayyad’s inability to enter the United States came two days after the New York-based National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles-based Television Academy sent a letter to the State Department urging his safe travel to the U.S. In a response to the Academies’ letter, Ian Brownlee, the Bureau’s principal deputy assistant secretary, said it could 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.”

National Geographic has also been in contact with the State Department. In her statement, Dyekjar added, “After this ordeal and given there was no way to get here by today, Feras is instead spending the weekend with his 5-year-old daughter – who hasn’t seen him in over six weeks. Our next step is to go back to the embassy early next week and try again for the necessary visa so he can come to the U.S.”

Here is Dyekjar’s full statement:

As has been widely reported, in December Feras was denied an extended U.S. visa by the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen and has missed several industry events, including the IDA Awards and Cinema Eye Awards.

He has had quite the ordeal these past weeks.

While waiting on the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen to grant him another appointment, Feras received news that his aunt’s house was bombed and his parents’ and childhood home was in the line of fire in Syria.

As the oldest of 10, he feels a great responsibility for his siblings and his parents. So, instead of continuing to wait on the embassy, Feras went to Turkey to be as close to his family as possible and help in any way he could.

The past few weeks for Feras have been filled with a lot of fear. A lot of anger. A lot of anxiety.

He remained in Turkey until two days ago, when we had positive indications the embassy was willing to revisit his case.

Feeling his family is out of immediate danger for now, Feras decided to return to Denmark.

However, things escalated two nights ago when I got a phone call at 12.30 a.m. Feras had been detained on his way into Copenhagen by immigration police.

I rushed to the airport. Feras told me the police used unnecessary force in detaining him. The past month has been a lot for a man who has been imprisoned and tortured in Syria, and whose family is under threat and has siblings spread all over Europe.

Feras was distraught, exhausted and felt discriminated against. The police eventually released him into my care.

After this ordeal and given there was no way to get here by today, Feras is instead spending the weekend with his 5-year-old daughter – who hasn’t seen him in over six weeks.

Our next step is to go back to the embassy early next week and try again for the necessary visa so he can come to the U.S.

National Geographic has been communicating with the U.S. State Department, and we have had an overwhelming show of support from the documentary community and entertainment industry at large, including:

• The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences
• The Television Academy & The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
• The Director’s Guild of America
• The International Documentary Association
• The Minister for Culture of Denmark
• The Danish Film Institute
• The association of Danish Film Directors

Feras is a filmmaker, but first and foremost he’s a Syrian. THE CAVE is a very personal film. It is dedicated to his seven sisters. To his daughter. To the unnamed women he witnessed being jailed and tortured in Syrian prisons because they’re women.

His voice is important and it deserves to be heard, now more than ever. After all, we are talking about a brilliant filmmaker who is now a two-time Academy Award nominee — and my dear friend.

Feras — and all of us — thank you all for your continued support.

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