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Syrian Subject of Oscar-Nominated Documentary to Attend Awards After Court Halts Travel Ban

Variety logo Variety 2/15/2017 Dani Levy
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Hala Kamil, the Syrian subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short “Watani: My Homeland” has obtained a travel visa and will attend this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Plans were up in the air for the mother of four whose resettlement in Germany, after ISIS kidnapped her husband in 2013 is the focus of Marcel Mettelsiefen’s short film. The travel ban created through an executive order signed by President Trump three weeks ago restricted travel and immigration from citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including an indefinite ban on Syrians. Like several other foreign filmmakers nominated for Oscars this year, Kamil was unsure what the ban would mean for her ability to attend the ceremony.

After an U.S. district judge stayed the ban two weeks ago, a federal appeals panel from the 9th Circuit ruled 3-0 to maintain the ruling, which Trump is expected to appeal again. The decision restricts execution of the executive order and has allowed travelers like Kamil to make the journey to the U.S.

“When I heard that I might have the opportunity of attending the Oscars to represent ‘Watani: My Homeland,’ I felt incredibly proud and happy but bittersweet,” Kamil said in a statement. “To think that over three years after I last saw my husband, I’ll be traveling to that same ceremony we watched together, brings tears to my eye.”

For three years, Mettelsiefen filmed the family of refugees as they lived in and then fled the war-torn city of Aleppo. Abu Ali, Kamil’s husband, actively fought as a commander in the Free Syrian Army before being abducted by ISIS militants.

“I want to tell the world about a small country called Syria, a country that has been burnt alive, its people torn up from the soil they once thrived on,” Kamil’s statement went on. “All this destruction and displacement needs the concerted effort of the whole world working together, to help these people back to their roots, the roots they hold so dear. All these people want is peace and the right to live.”

Several other films nominated in the two documentary categories depict or were directed by individuals affected by the ban. Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian whose film “The Salesman” is up for the foreign language film category, denounced the ban and has stated he would abstain from attending even if accommodations were made. Now that the ban is stayed, Farhadi could in theory attend but has stated he will instead host a screening of the film in London the night of the Oscars.

Read Kamil’s full statement below:

“When I heard that I might have the opportunity of attending the Oscars to represent Watani: My Homeland, I felt incredibly proud and happy but bittersweet. The first thing that came to my mind was my husband and soul mate. Abu Ali, and I would stay up late every year to watch the Oscars live on television. Sipping coffee together as we always did, we’d try to recall the names of all the famous actors and actresses as they graced the red carpet, in complete awe of this huge event.

To think that over three years after I last saw my husband, I’ll be traveling to that same ceremony we watched together, brings tears to my eye. But to be reminded of what I have lost is also a reminder of what I have held on to; my four children.

It’s also a reminder of what keeps me strong, and what drives me to speak up for beloved homeland and its people.

Traveling to the United States is a very important step forward for me, to have the opportunity to reach so many people with my message of peace, unity and understanding is so invaluable, and I’m so grateful to have this chance.

I want to tell the world about a small country called Syria, a country that has been burnt alive, its people torn up from the soil they once thrived on. All this destruction and displacement needs the concerted effort of the whole world working together, to help these people back to their roots, the roots they hold so dear. All these people want is peace and the right to live.”

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