|ACCESS DENIED is a proposed documentary about the effect of 9/11 on United States culture, in the broadest sense of that word.
There is a story about the United States and 9/11 to which
the world has become accustomed. Security measures enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks are impeding the
inflow of cultural talent that helps energize American ethnic communities, aficionados of global cultures, and institutions. The enhanced security is keeping out some terrorists yet the process is also impeding a number of artists who pose no threat.
Film, theatre, music, opera and dance organizations all say that new American immigration and visa policies are making it extremely difficult for foreign artists to come to the US to perform their work. Across America, communities that have been nurtured by an infusion of world music, international literature, and national dance and folklore troupes, are more and more deprived of that shower that moistens their cultural roots.
We would like to tell this story in a different way. ACCESS DENIED will combine narrative story telling and journalism with some of the key characters explaining their own stories through translated voice-overs and where necessary, narration. This production will combine the skills of veteran filmmaker St.Clair Bourne and experienced writer/journalist Tom Miller to make a documentary that will have a multi-layered editorial tone, as well as production values that will make the film accessible to viewers not familiar with the subtleties of this subject.
Our proposed production addresses the Corporation For Public Broadcasting's new public education initiative to inform the national dialogue, expand our civic conversation and advance our national debate on the nature and direction of international terrorism and the effort to combat it. These efforts involve the use of American power against states that harbor or "sponsor" terrorists, preemptive military action, unilateralism, regime change, conflicts between homeland security and civil liberties, and other still-emerging questions resulting from the 9/11 attacks.
ACCESS DENIED will go beyond other documentaries on this subject by examining these measures used to root out elements of terrorism. It will examine the changes that have affected the process that four people overseas, accomplished in their fields, must undergo in order to share their talent, their knowledge, and their worldly views with an American audience. Stringent visa procedures, countries targeted as "unfriendly," and a near-war footing at home have all turned what were once pro forma guidelines for artists and others visiting the United States into an extremely difficult, often impossible course of action.
While the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have raised America's concerns about border security, the visa problem did not begin then. Inconsistent standards and opacity seem to have been in place at least since Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, which set out a labyrinth of classifications and sub-classifications for visas.Historically when the United States had a worldview diametrically opposed to another country - the USSR being the best-known situation we still welcomed their culture. Soviet pianists performed frequently on the college circuit even in the 1950s and '60s, and the Bolshoi Ballet awed American audiences even in the most frozen moments of the Cold War. That dynamic no longer holds, and the main factor in this renewed aggressiveness is the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act, which became law in May 2002. This legislation requires elaborate background checks on travelers from countries identified as "state sponsors of terrorism."
When September 11 occurred, it did not escape the government's notice that several of the hijackers had been living in the US on expired student visas. Bolstered by the new law, interviews were mandatory for every temporary work visa, whether the applicant was a basketball player, a computer programmer or a sitar player. The fingerprinting of people from Muslim countries, previously avoidable, is now strictly enforced. The FBI has the right to take passports and hold up visa applications for as long as it sees fit. Since 9/11 musicians and other artists who have ties with or come from
||Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, or Syria must undergo a lengthy and complex process to get a visa to work in the United States. Artists from other countries with substantial Muslim populations are by definition suspect. Many musicians who have performed in the past to appreciative audiences in the States are shocked to now find themselves on a list for having "ties"to terrorist states or movements. Overseas artists and performers with an international fan base, especially with followers in the United States, are caught in a dilemma as a result of this change in official U.S. attitudes and law.
Artists from Muslim countries seem to have the most difficulty. Iraqi poets are virtually unknown in the United States and yet accomplished Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef won a major international PEN award. Invited to give a reading at the prestigious Poets House in New York, it was impossible for Youssef, who lives peacefully in London, to get a visa to come to the United States despite his international stature. PEN/USA, on the other hand, has undertaken a series of events called Foreign Exchanges, pairing writers from abroad with well-known stateside writers. It has been, by all accounts, enormously successful.
In the spring of 2003, the celebrated Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was traveling to South America from Hong Kong. He did not intend to stop in the US, but his flight path took him through New York's John F. Kennedy airport. There, Panahi, a winner of the Golden Bear award at the Venice film festival who had visited the US several times, was detained by officials. Because his fingerprints were not on file, hewas handcuffed and held in custody for several hours. He was so incensed at his treatment that he vowed never to return to the US.
Iranian musician Hossein Alizadeh, a Canadian citizen who lives in France, missed the first two weeks of his United States tour, and only after Congressmen and concert promoters implored the U.S. Consulate in Paris to grant him a visa was he allowed to complete it.
Going as far back as the 1980s, Iranians traveling to the US have been fingerprinted - but the trouble now extends across oceans, continents, and religions. According to Marc Scorca, president of Opera America, opera directors from countries as uncontroversial as Italy and Spain have begun avoiding US engagements because they don't want to put up with the aggravation. Musicians and other artists have had to cancel their U.S. tours at the last minute as a result, or wait in limbo.
No one denies that a government has the obligation to protect itself and its citizens against terrorism and in fact, many patriotic arts groups nobly rose to the occasion, supporting their government in those troubled weeks following 9/11. A number of European countries, likewise with legitimate fears of the threat of random violence, have intensified their own requirements for visitors from countries associated with terrorism. For example, foreign entertainers in Germany must qualify to purchase a "performance visa," which is reputed to be difficult to obtain. Holland is said to be somewhat more flexible on permitting artists from certain countries to work within its borders. Europeans are watching their own borders very closely and are identifying potential problems themselves. This documentary will explore the friction between the legitimate defense of a nation and restricting valid visits from valuablecontributors to our culture.
How has this turn of events affected the cultural life of the United States and its relationship to the world? To find out, ACCESS DENIED would start by showing examples of foreign cultures celebrated in them United States. Every state, it seems, has an annual event to rejoice in its cultural diversity. In Arizona, for example, it's "Tucson Meet Yourself," a crowded, three-day festival at which more than fifty different nationalities feature their country's crafts, dance, music, and food. This intermingling of cultures has many beneficial effects - children and students see possibilities of travel; adults reflect their forebears' culture; and everyone gains a better understanding of the wider world. It's the Big Picture on a human scale.
We will then show some of these same national cultures in their home environment. These are our potential subjects- individuals and groups that have performed in the States in the past and hope to come back again.