Two Iranian actresses won't be hitting the red carpet as their drama Ava makes its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday. The Canadian government has denied travel visas to 17-year-old Mahour Jabbari and 18-year-old Shayesteh Sajadi, according to the film's director, Sadaf Foroughi.
"I felt disappointed because I wish I could celebrate our premiere accompanied by my actresses," Foroughi tells The Hollywood Reporter. Toronto fest organizers going to bat for the Iranian actresses failed to sway Canadian embassy officials.
"TIFF provided visa support letters for Mahour Jabbari and Shayesteh Sadat Sajjadi. We would love to have them celebrate their premiere of Ava with us in Toronto. Although they cannot be here with us, their voices and talent will shine through their film," a festival spokesperson said in a statement.
Sajadi, who applied for a travel visa through the Canadian embassy in Turkey (Iran does not have a Canadian embassy), was the first to be denied entry. Her letter stated, "You have not satisfied me that you would leave Canada at the end of your stay as a temporary resident. In reaching this decision, I considered several factors, including travel history, family ties in Canada and in country of residence, purpose of visit, current employment situation. I am not satisfied that you have sufficient funds, including income or assets, to carry out your stated purpose in going to Canada or to maintain yourself while in Canada and to effect your departure."
Jabbari, who plays the titular Ava in the coming-of-age tale, received a similar denial on Thursday, one day ahead of the film's bow. Her letter also cited a lack of personal assets and a questionable purpose for the visit.
"It could have been a great chance to watch our movie with audience, but more important is to have the opportunity to show our movie in such a considerable film festival," Jabbari said.
But Foroughi, who will be on hand as her film premieres in the Discovery section, says there is nothing dubious about the purpose of the girls' visit. She even enlisted the festival to advocate on behalf of her stars but to no avail. "The festival has been very well involved and kindly followed up with the embassy," says the Iranian-born helmer who lives in Canada.
The move may become a potential embarrassment for the Canadian government, which is seen as a welcoming country and whose leader, Justin Trudeau, has positioned himself as a stark contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump and his travel ban that affects six predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Ironically, Foroughi says she experienced no issues during a recent U.S. trip.
"I didn't have any problem to travel to U.S in my last trip last week," she says.
As for Sajadi, who plays Ava's friend Melody in the film about navigating the strict cultural traditions of Iran, she remains upbeat about being banned from Canada.
"The only important thing for me is that the film has already found its well-deserved place and hopefully will be very well received by the festival and its audience," she says. "I'm looking forward to the reactions after the premiere and lots of other good things that are going to happen."
Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.