Outfest Fusion, a Hollywood film festival dedicated to images of LGBTQ people of color, was supposed to be an occasion of joy for Tehran-born director Pouria Heidary Oureh. But when his film “Apricot Groves” had its U.S. premiere during the festival that ran through Tuesday at the TCL Chinese Theatre, he was back in Iran, unable to take in the applause.
Heidary Oureh is one of a number of foreign-born filmmakers affected by the chill that’s set in after Donald Trump’s executive order barred travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries — reduced to six on Monday in a revised executive order that still includes Iran.
Last month, Syrian cinematographer Khaled Khateeb, of the short documentary “The White Helmets,” was refused entry into the United States to celebrate the film’s Oscar win, which was also Netflix’s first Academy Award. This came after Iranian director Asghar Farhadi announced he was boycotting the ceremony where the picture he directed, “The Salesman,” won the Oscar for foreign film. Actress Taraneh Alidoosti, who starred in “The Salesman,” also didn’t attend the awards. “Trump’s visa ban for Iranians is racist,” Alidoosti wrote in a statement.
"We have always said that if we were to be nominated, we would bring Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, who has spoken many times in D.C., and Khaled Khateeb, the young cinematographer who risked his life over and over again, as our guests," Joanna Natasegara, producer of "The White Helmets" told The Times shortly after the initial travel ban was announced. "They’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — these people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent."
Unlike Khateeb, Heidary Oureh was not officially denied entry to the U.S. But in an email interview a few days after his film screened at Outfest Fusion, the filmmaker told the L.A. Times how events after the original executive order affected his plans.
“I was watching the news when I heard about the new law by President Trump and I was utterly shocked,” he said. “As ‘The Salesman’ by Asghar Farhadi was in the Oscars, I followed the news concerning his attendance and thought there might be a way for other filmmakers and artists.”
Asghar’s and Alidoosti’s boycott shook his resolve, but it was the action against Khateeb that affected him most.
“After I heard [Khateeb], the Syrian filmmaker, had been denied a visa, I stopped trying to get one and lost hope.”
The new ban, which takes effect March 16, halts travel to the U.S. for 90 days for residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The refugee suspension will last 120 days.
“To get an American visa has always been difficult for Iranians, but banning entry is a kind of disrespect more than anything else,” he said. “There are good and bad people in all countries. I think we must pass laws out of respect for the good people.”
What follows is an edited conversation with Heidary Oureh about becoming a filmmaker, about the travel ban, about expressions of support for immigrants from Hollywood figures, such as Meryl Streep, and his personal message for President Trump.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I was born in Tehran in 1984. After high school, I left Iran to continue my studies in Cyprus and the UAE and then worked on projects in Turkey and Iran to gain filmmaking experience. I traveled to many countries, mostly to Armenia because it is near Iran and does not require a visa [for] Iranians. Although Iran has always been my first home, Armenia has been my second home in the past few years. I have had only an Iranian passport.
At what point did you find out that your film was going to be screened at Outfest Fusion?
After sending the film to international festivals, we received the good news our film was chosen in Outfest Fusion. I was doubly happy when I heard it because my first short film had been chosen in Woodstock in New York and my cinema profession had started there in the U.S. in 2012. I had gotten a U.S. visa easily back then.
If you could say something to President Trump directly, what would you say?
Mr. President, I neither hate nor like you because I have not met you yet, and I know you have your own reasons for this law. What is clear, however, is that there are always good things in bad events. The good point about this law was that the kindness and love and altruism of the American people was proven to the world, and you created a support and bond between the people of the countries you banned from entering the U.S. and the American people.
Creation of that bond might have taken years by other methods. I read something interesting in the book “Flashes of Wisdom” by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, which I will never forget: “It is easy to rule through fear, but it takes a rare leader to rule through love.”
What has the support of Outfest Fusion and expressions from Hollywood stars like Meryl Streep about the important role of foreign filmmakers meant to you?
I would like to thank Outfest Fusion for choosing my film. Despite the difficulties I have faced since the start of shooting in Armenia because of the film’s LGBT theme, its presence in [the] festival encouraged me greatly. I thank all American artists who support their colleagues in the banned countries, and I kiss the hand of adorable Meryl Streep for all her support.
Times staff writers Libby Hill and Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.