Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan, author Michael Ondaatje, and documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney used the platform of the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday to call for the release of Toronto filmmaker John Greyson from an Egyptian jail, where he has been held since Aug. 16.
At the press conference Tuesday Egoyan read a letter outlining Greyson’s accomplishments and demanding his release. The letter has been signed by more than 300 international filmmakers, academics and writers, including Ben Affleck, Errol Morris, Mark Ruffalo, Mira Nair, Thandie Newton and Mike Leigh. Ondaatje added a list of international authors, including Alice Munroe, Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy.
Greyson was in Cairo in mid-August, accompanying London, Ont.-based Dr. Tarek Loubani, en route to the main hospital in the Gaza Strip, the al-Shifa hospital. They arrived in Egypt in the midst of the political violence that saw more than 1,000 people killed and the border to Gaza closed. On August 16, the two men stopped at a Cairo police station to ask for directions and were among the hundreds of people arrested.
They were in “the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Greyson’s sister, Cecelia, who has been the main source of information for Greyson and Loubani’s supporters since their arrest. She said that both men were in good health and good spirits, and praised the efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian consulate in Egypt. She said the men are in a cell that holds 38 with one tap and one toilet, and are scheduled to meet with the Egyptian prosecutor Wednesday. If they are not released by Sunday, the prosecutor may hold them for another 15 days without charges before their release.
Egoyan said the issue was “about freedom of expression and that he was trying to sell a story and was stopped.”
Though there is no indication that the arrest was related to Greyson and Loubani’s political beliefs, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (director of the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side) emphasized that protesting their arrest was “terribly important. Documentary filmmakers go all over the world, sometimes to very dangerous places, and it’s important that they do so knowing the international community of artists have their backs.”
Last year, he pointed out, the Toronto International Film Festival made a statement on behalf of Syrian filmmaker, Orwa Nyrabia, who was subsequently released from jail.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding their release and during the festival, many have been wearing pink “Free Tarek and John” buttons.