Trump Muslim Ban Puts Miami Film Fest, Iraqi Director in the Crosshairs (Exclusive)

Director Hussein Hassan - Publicity-P 2017
Courtesy of Mitosfilm

Update: 'The Dark Wind' director Hussein Hassan has withdrawn his visa application in an act of protest.

The film world is about to take its first hit due to a looming presidential executive order that would restrict visits and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The Miami Film Festival has been working for the past month with director Hussein Hassan to present his acclaimed film The Dark Wind for its North American premiere. But those plans have been thrown into disarray given that Hassan hails from Iraq, which is one of the seven countries listed in the draft order titled "Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals." The other countries included are Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran.

President Trump is expected to sign the draft order in the coming days, putting the festival and Hassan in the crosshairs.

"I am just incensed that artists are being silenced and prevented from showing their work," says Jaie Laplante, the festival's executive director and director of programming. "We cannot allow our filmmakers to be silenced. This is not something where we are going to just sit back and say, 'Oh well.' This is not the way the soul and spirit of America works."

Even before the draft order was leaked to the press yesterday, the festival had a sense that something was amiss, as Hassan was having difficulty getting his visa application approved. On Tuesday, the director showed up at the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and was told there was an error with his application. Hassan says consulate staff asked him to resubmit his application. He did so and applied for another appointment but never received an answer. The director is devastated by the prospect of being barred entry into the United States.

"The Dark Wind shows the audience what you cannot see in the media," says Hassan via email. "The film is an emotional excerpt of the war in Iraq. USA is an important player in the fight against IS. That is why I would like to personally introduce my film to the American audience and talk about the truth behind the pictures."

The film, which chronicles the 2014 Yazidi genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan, is scheduled to screen in a section called Cinema 360, the festival's world cinema panorama sidebar. THR reviewed the film at the Busan Film Festival in October and hailed it as "the first feature film from Iraq, or anywhere, to deal with the horrific pogrom against the Yazidi."

Though Trump's draft order calls for a 30-day visa halt, which could presumably expire before the festival kicks off on March 3, Laplante is bracing for Hassan not being able to enter the country. The festival already had engaged in hiring a translator for the director, who speaks Kurdish.

"It's clear that the U.S. consulate in Erbil is already acting as if [the executive order] is going to happen and not proceeding as normal or customary [in processing Hassan's visa]," Laplante adds. "So, yeah, we're expecting the worst. This is an attempt to shut out Iraqi nationals, blanket across the board, not even having an interview with him and discovering he's an artist and he's trying to participate in a cultural exchange. Not even getting to that point. Just completely censoring him."

The 34th Miami Film Festival runs March 3-12 and includes such other hot-button fare as opening night film Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer starring Richard Gere.

"The Dark Wind of the title refers to the spread of ISIS across the region, but I can't help but feel that a 'dark wind' is now sweeping over America as well," says Laplante. "When our country moves to block artists from sharing their work from any nation in an open cultural exchange, it is at great detriment to the spirit and soul of our nation."

Update Jan. 27 at 10:46 AM PT: In an act of protest of the draft order, Hassan has withdrawn his visa application. The film will still screen at the festival. Dark Wind producer Mehmet Aktas issued the following statement:

"Hussein Hassan shot his film at the front line of the war between the Kurds and the so called Islamic State. Hussein Hassan risked everything to present the true face of the war. Hassan is not a fighter at the front line. He fights with his artistic soul against terrorism and crimes. The U.S. are the closest and most important allies for Kurdistan. Now it seems to be impossible for a Kurdish artist to visit the U.S. to present his work. As an act of peaceful protest, Hussein Hassan decided to withdraw from his visa application. We as Kurdish filmmakers hope that Donald Trump will acknowledge the Kurdish people."