Fady Hanona and Ali Aby Yaseen desperately trying to make it to the U.S. premiere
Fady Hanouna has been trying to get to the Sundance Film Festival from his home in Gaza. (Courtesy Fady Hanouna)
Ashleigh Stewart and Kaleem Aftab, The National, January 28, 2019
Two “honest, hard-working family men” from Gaza have helped bring the plight of the Palestinian people to the largest independent film festival in the United States but, in an ironic twist, they can’t get there themselves.
Fady Hanouna and Ali Aby Yaseen have tried for months to get the necessary documentation and visas approved to accompany the film they worked on for four years to its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
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But the duo can’t break free of the very thing they’ve been railing against in the new documentary; they can’t get out of Gaza to get to its premiere.
The border between Gaza and Egypt is closed, with no indication of when it will reopen.
Hanouna, 30, a production manager on the film, and Yaseen, who features in the film, were scheduled to travel to Cairo for their visa interviews on January 21. They were supposed to fly out for the US on January 24.
A week has now passed and there has been no change in Gaza. Alongside thousands of others desperate to cross the border, they wait.
“I don’t know why Israel closes the border from the north … Egypt is closing the border from the south, and from the west there is the sea. And from the east there are Israeli snipers,” a frustrated Hanouna told The National. “It is my right to travel and it is my right to get a job and it is my right to live a decent life. It is my right to feel safe with my children and my family.”
The US Embassy in Cairo has told the two men they could “be flexible” with their visa interviews if they arrived in the city soon, Hanouna says. However, the movie premieres at Sundance today and the border remains closed.
International travel is a foreign concept for Hanouna. He has never seen an airport in his life, let alone been on a plane – or even a train. “So I’m excited and afraid! But I want to try, I want to fly,” he says.
He has worked on several films in Gaza, as a production manager and cameraman, but has never seen any of his own work as the territory doesn’t have a cinema. So why is this time different? Why choose now to watch one of his movies from a seat in a cinema halfway across the world, in Park City, Utah?
“The film shows Gaza away from what you hear in the news every day – blood, wars and bombing,” he says. “The film is far from politics and close to human.”
And so, Hanouna and Yaseen are attempting to take matters into their own hands. They are documenting their efforts to get through the border on a vlog – The Long Road to Sundance – that can be found on YouTube.
But, so far, no amount of external aid has been able to get them through. Sundance has tried to help, to no avail.
“The [Sundance] Institute has been working tirelessly with government officials, individuals, and humanitarians to try to secure the safe passage of Fady and Ali out of Gaza,” Sundance Film Festival documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy said. “The support we have received from the filmmaking and international communities has been overwhelming.”
One of the movie’s directors, Garry Keane, says he is frustrated that the two men cannot leave Gaza. “We have two guys, two honest, hard-working family men, who have done nothing wrong in their lives and have nothing political going on in their lives, they are as clean as whistles and we can’t actually get them across the border to a film festival with two-and-a-half months of concerted efforts.”
All Hanouna and Yaseen can do is sit and wait. And vlog. “I don’t understand why I do not have 24 hours of electricity, why I can’t travel? Why we don’t have a job, why there are families [who] can’t provide bread,” says Hanouna.
“I know parents cannot look into the eyes of their children because they can’t provide them with food. Believe me this is a good place; the people here love life, are educated, have a dream – just give us a chance!”