UPDATED: A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, looked likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions, but a last-minute approval may yet make his attendance possible.
Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist family in Syria, which is nominated for best documentary feature.
Eisenhauer, managing director of Berlin-based production shingle Ventana Film, produced the film with Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme and Tobias N. Siebert of Basis Berlin Filmproduktion. While Derki and the other producers will be in Los Angeles for the Oscars, it looked increasingly likely that Eisenhauer’s past travels would keep him from entering the U.S.
Eisenhauer, a former senior commissioning editor at German pubcaster ZDF as well as deputy program director of Arte, spent three days in Iraq in 2016 as part of the documentary’s production. That stay almost doomed his chances to visit the U.S.
A 2016 U.S. law has made it more difficult for travelers from Germany and other countries who normally do not need a visa to enter the U.S. for up to three months if they had previously traveled to certain countries, including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Those travelers would need to apply for a visa.
Eisenhauer told Variety on Thursday that he became aware of the problem last year when he was blocked from flying to the U.S. for the Sundance Film Festival, where “Of Fathers and Sons” screened and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize. He immediately applied for a U.S. visa as soon as the documentary was nominated last month for an Academy Award.
Eisenhauer said he quickly got an appointment for an interview at the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt (since the U.S. Embassy’s consular department in Berlin is undergoing construction). After a short conversation with a sympathetic consular official in which he discussed his work, the film and the Oscar nomination, Eisenhauer was told to expect his visa in a few days.
Relieved that everything appeared to be fine, Eisenhauer said he booked a flight to Los Angeles. The following day, however, he received an email from the consulate with further inquiries, including detailed travel information for the past 15 years.
“You can imagine what that means for somebody who was always travelling internationally,” he said.
Eisenhauer visited the U.S. countless times throughout his career and recalled being in Los Angeles with Wim Wenders when he approved the filmmaker’s rough cut of his 1999 documentary “Buena Vista Social Club.”
After providing the necessary information he was informed by the consulate that his case was being worked on and that he would receive a notification, which didn’t come for days.
A Department of State official told Variety that many factors could trigger the need for additional processing of a visa. “In some cases, the consular officer may need to request additional documents or other information from the visa applicant. Administrative processing is applied to visa applicants on a case-by-case basis, and is not limited to applicants from particular countries.”
Desparate, Eisenhauer wrote a letter to Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as did Bernd Neumann, former German commissioner for culture and media and current president of the German Federal Film Board, but he received no reply.
Sad and angry, Eisenhauer said he had resigned himself to the fact that he would no longer be able to make it to the Oscars.
Late on Thursday, however, the U.S. consulate informed Eisenhauer that he would in fact be granted the visa and that it would be ready in Frankfurt on Friday.
Eisenhauer is now planning to travel from Berlin to Frankfurt to pick it up and hopes to catch a plane to California on Saturday. Whether he actually makes it or not remains to be seen.
“Of Fathers and Sons,” which follows Derki as he returns to his native Syria, gains the trust of a radical Islamist family and documents their daily life over a two-year period, is also nominated for best documentary at Saturday’s Independent Sprit Awards, which Eisenhauer now might also be able to attend.