Palestinian filmmaker Said Zagha was turned away by Egyptian authorities in Cairo on his way to the El Gouna Film Festival to pitch his new project.
The U.K. permanent resident has a Jordanian passport that indicates he is of Palestinian origin. He flew into Istanbul on Friday, but was not allowed to board his Turkish Airlines flight to Hurghada, the Egyptian airport that services Red Sea resort towns, including El Gouna, the filmmaker says.
The festival had booked Zagha a flight on EgyptAir for Saturday. However, when he landed in Cairo, he ran into problems.
“I shared a copy of my passport with the festival in early September and did so with the Egyptian Consulate in London, and both assured me that I would have no problems entering Egypt,” Zagha tells Variety. “Once I arrived, it was a different story. Egyptian border control told me that I cannot enter without ‘special security coordination.’ The festival repeatedly assured me that everything is coordinated with the authorities, but the message I kept receiving from airport officials was the exact opposite.”
The festival booked Zagha on another flight back to London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday. He had be escorted by an Egyptian colonel during the flight. “They escorted me from the detention facility to the gate, where the colonel was waiting for me,” says Zagha. “Once he got me seated in the airplane, he left a junior assistant next to me and excused himself to business class. When we arrived in London, he wouldn’t even give me my passport until I showed him my U.K. residency permit — although I did explain at this point that his jurisdiction ended a long time ago.”
The show, or in this case, the pitch, must go on, and Zagha eventually pitched his project, “Weedestine” — a heist thriller set in the West Bank — on Monday via Zoom. The project has received a production grant from the Royal Film Commission of Jordan. Zagha, who is a graduate of Ohio’s Kenyon College, is also a Berlinale Talents 2020 alumnus.
Zagha’s 2016 short “Five Boys and a Wheel” has received numerous awards and he has another short, “Lovesick in the West Bank,” in post-production.
“I am concerned that some festivals will refrain from inviting ‘card-carrying’ Palestinians and restrict their invitations to Palestinians who carry other nationalities/passports to avoid embarrassment,” adds Zagha. “I should receive my British passport in the next few years, but even then, I’m sufficiently traumatized that I will avoid Egypt altogether. While I cannot ask anyone to do anything they don’t wish to do, I sincerely hope that Palestinian filmmakers stand united against such disgraceful treatment.”
Variety has reached out to the El Gouna Film Festival for comment.
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