Hollywood to Egypt: Release Filmmaker John Greyson, Physician Tarek Loubani

John Greyson P

Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and Alec Baldwin are among the stars throwing their support behind the director and subject, who have been wrongfully imprisoned since mid-August.

On Aug. 16, 2013, Canadian physician Dr. Tarek Loubani and Canadian filmmaker John Greyson were arrested by Egyptian police. Today, they remain detained, without clear reason for their incarceration. Hoping to rally voices and force the Canadian and Egyptian governments to take action, actors, filmmakers and members of the cultural and academic communities have penned an open letter calling for their release.

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Names like Ben Affleck, Atom Egoyan, Charlize Theron, Jafar Panahi, Mira Nair, Alex Gibney, Alec Baldwin and Sarah Polley have signed the letter, which details Greyson and Loubani's respective works and the scenario surrounding their wrongful arrest:

“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.”

With political implications, Change.org has set up their own petition to stir up online support, with a goal of 150,000 supporters.

“On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Egyptian authorities to 'release all evidence' against Tarek and John, but we believe it will take ongoing public outcry in order to force the Canadian and Egyptian governments to find a resolution and secure their freedom,” reports the Free Tarek and John Coalition via the Change.org petition.

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This morning, Egoyan, Gibney, Polley, Toronto Film Festival artistic director Noah Cowan, novelist Michael Ondaatje and Greyson's sister Cecilia Greyson gathered at the Lightbox Theater to call attention to the issue. While Greyson was known for vocalizing his politics and following his curiosity, the panelists urged the audience that the Lilies and Zero Patience director's freedom spoke to a larger artistic issue.

"We must fiercely defend his freedom of expression ... and communicate his profound humanitarian concerns,” Indiewire quotes Egoyan. “John is first and foremost a deeply feeling human being who has produced a profound body of work."

Ondaatje echoed the sentiment: "Writers and artists travel to dangerous places in the real world as well as their imagination ...To benefit from and also to support [Greyson's] work we have to defend his desire to [travel to dangerous places]."

More information on the Free Tarek and John website.