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Visa flap keeps filmmakers from visiting U.S.

Visa flap keeps filmmakers from visiting U.S. After Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami fails to get a visa to attend the New York Film Festival, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki stays home in protest

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Stringent new visa polices adopted in August in the wake of last year’s terror attacks may be keeping more undesirables out of the United States, but they’re also keeping noteworthy artists and performers out. Now, authorities insist on a 90-day background check on many applicants, particularly from those countries thought to be sponsors of terrorism. Last month, it meant that Chucho Valdes and 21 other Cuban musicians couldn’t get their visas approved in time to attend the Latin Grammys, at which Valdes had to receive an award in absentia. Now, the longer screening process has kept Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, whom critics consider one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers, from attending the New York Film Festival screening last Saturday of his latest movie, ”Ten.” In protest, his friend, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, is boycotting the festival, which is screening his new movie, ”The Man Without a Past.”

Kiarostami, best known for his 1997 ”A Taste of Cherry” (which won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival), has visited the U.S. numerous times in recent years under the old rules. Under the new rules, however, authorities told him he wouldn’t be able to visit until December, the New York Times reports. Sometimes, consulate officials will give artists special consideration, but Kiarostami did not ask for any. ”I certainly do not deserve an entry visa any more than an aging mother hoping to visit her children in the U.S.” he wrote in a letter to NYFF director Richard Pena, according to Variety.

Upon hearing of Kiarostami’s visa troubles, Kaurismaki decided to stay home in solidarity. ”If international cultural exchange is prevented, what is left?” he wrote in a statement. ”The exchange of arms?” He said that if immigration authorities fail to admit ”an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn, either. We do not even have the oil.”

”It seems to me that policies that deny or make difficult visas are very shortsighted and counterproductive,” Pena told Variety. ”Especially at a time when we need more contact with the Muslim world, particularly their finest artists and thinkers.”

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