Wednesday, May 06, 2009

visa row leads kiarostami to withdraw from london opera directorship

The acclaimed Iranian film director and visual artist Abbas Kiarostami, whose films have won multiple international awards, has pulled out of directing the English National Opera's (ENO) forthcoming production of Mozart's opera 'Cosi fan tutte' in protest at the way he was treated while trying to apply for a British visa the Daily Telegraph reports. The 68-year-old director of such films as 'Ten', 'Where is the Friend's Home' and 'Taste of Cherry', blamed the "unduly time-consuming and complicated" visa application process, which requires all applicants to be fingerprinted. Kiarostami's 'Cosi fan tutte ' was premiered at the Aix festival in France last July, and the ENO director John Berry says that Kiaorstami and his designer and the ENO team have been meeting in Paris over the past six months to further develop the production. Berry said the company is "hugely disappointed" at Kiarostami's withdrawal.

It is not as if Kiarastomi is in any way an unknown quantity to the British authorities. In spring 2005 a major six-week retrospective of his work was held in London. The V&A museum hosted art works, photographs, films and a conference; the programme included an interview of Kiarostami by the celebrated British film director Mike Leigh. At the same time the National Film Theatre screened a season of his films.

Kiarostami has good reason to be sensitive over the issue of visas in the West; in 2002 the US humiliatingly refused him a visa to attend the New York Film Festival and lecture at Harvard and Ohio State universities.
Update: on 7 May the Independent carried further news on the Kiarostami visa issue, and linked it to a wider problem of difficulties faced in getting visas for Britain. "While Mr Kiarostami's case has proved the most high profile, he is just the tip of an iceberg of artists, academics and business people who feel they have been effectively snubbed by British embassies abroad. Many feel frustrated by the new visas which require all entrants to provide fingerprints and travel for interviews with British embassy staff. The Independent has received countless letters from British residents complaining that legitimate attempts to bring colleagues or friends into the UK have been greeted by a tortuous process and often what appears to have been an arbitrary refusal with no redress."

News of Kiarostami's withdrawal from the ENO festival comes during a storm over the publication by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith yesterday of a list of 16 'promoters of hate' banned from entering Britain since October.
Smith said the "name and shame" list was being published because "I think it's important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it's a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won't be welcome in this country." But critics attacked the publication of the list as an assault on free speech. One of the most high profile personalities denied entry to Britain, far-right Islamophobic Dutch MP Geert Wilders, is not even on the list. He was turned back at Heathrow in February after trying to enter Britain for the screening of his film 'Fitna' at the House of Lords.
The Home Office said yesterday he had not been included on the list because " he is a European national and was excluded under different grounds. Geert Wilders was refused admission to the UK on 12th February 2009 on public policy and public security grounds. The decision to refuse admission was taken under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 as Mr Wilders is an EEA national. He has not been excluded from the UK. Any future proposal by Mr Wilders to visit the UK would be considered on its merits, taking all relevant factors into account. However ... from today we are now able to ban European nationals and their family members if they constitute a threat to public policy or public security."

The American "shock jock" Michael Savage says he is to sue Jacqui Smith for putting his name on the list.
Savage said: "For this lunatic Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary of England, to link me up with skinheads who are killing people in Russia, to put me in league with mass murderers who kill Jews on buses, is defamation.'I thought this was a joke or a mistake. How could they put Michael Savage in the same league with mass murderers when I have never avowed violence? As a result of this, I am going to sue." He added: "I've been on the air 15 years. My views may be inflammatory, but they're not violent in any way.’" Savage's website Home of the Savage Nation is full of denunciations of Smith. Reuters reports: "Savage, who says he has between 8 and 10 million listeners across the United States, urged them to support him by cancelling any travel plans to Britain and by boycotting British-made goods. 'I don't know what they make there any more, but whatever they make, I suggest you don't buy it,' he said."

In a further manifestation of the controlling instincts of New Labour, the Home Office has rolled out plans for chemists, postmasters and post offices to take fingerprints as part of the controversial scheme to introduce ID cards. And Greater Manchester has been chosen as the launch pad for the ID scheme. One of the main concerns over the scheme is that the government has in the past two years frequently been embarrassed by the loss or leaking of supposedly confidential personal details held in various government data bases.

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