Acclaimed Iranian film director denied entry to NZ, named as overstayer risk

"We are not satisfied that you are a bona fide visitor to New Zealand," says Immigration NZ, turning film festival on its head.

Award-winning Iranian film director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami has been declined a visitor visa by Immigration NZ, who claim ...
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Award-winning Iranian film director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami has been declined a visitor visa by Immigration NZ, who claim she is at risk of overstaying.

An award-winning Iranian film director has been declined a visitor visa by Immigration NZ, who claim she is a risk of overstaying. 

The refusal has disappointed and frustrated Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, as well as the organisers of the Documentary Edge film festival.

Film buffs had been looking forward to her appearance and masterclasses in New Zealand as a star attraction at festival events in Wellington and Auckland.

Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami's film Sonita focuses on the challenges faced by 14-year-old rapper Sonita Alizada.
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Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami's film Sonita focuses on the challenges faced by 14-year-old rapper Sonita Alizada.

READ MORE: Documentary festival to launch in Wellington

Ghaemmaghami is the director of Sonita, a film released last year about a 14-year-old Sonita Alizada, an Afghan refugee living in Tehran who pursues a vocation as a fiery hip-hop MC – a move that puts her at odds with her home country's authoritarian regime, particularly its enforced marriage practices.

The film has won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival and has been met with widespread critical acclaim.

Festival director Dan Shannan said Ghaemmaghami was to be one of the main guests at this year's event, which runs from May 4 to 15 in Wellington and from May 18 to 29 in Auckland.

"It's been a bit of a disaster for us. She was going to be speaking at both of the screenings of her film and was meant to be holding masterclasses on her work in documentaries."

He was calling on immigration minister Michael Woodhouse, arts and culture minister Maggie Barry and opposition immigration spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern for help.

"I'm sure something can be worked out. The whole decision on this sounds a little bit crazy."

Speaking from the United States, Ghaemmaghami said she had been hoping to travel to New Zealand to promote her work first hand.

"They say because I do not have enough ties to my own country I might want to stay in New Zealand. But that is not correct," she said.–

"This has happened before, some time ago, when I was trying to get into Canada. But now because I have made more films it is easy to Google my name and find out all about me."

Ghaemmaghami said her visit to New Zealand had been factored into a busy schedule travelling the world to promote and speak about Sonita, which also includes stops at Spain, Australia, New York, Turkey and Serbia.

Even though it was unlikely she would be able to now get to New Zealand she hoped her film would still be seen by many people here as it provided a valuable insight into the lives of young Afghan girls.

"It is important they know the kind of problems they can be challenged by. It is a good message to get out, so it can give people ideas of how to change the situations they are facing.

"It is a movie that gives hope."

The decision by Washington DC-based Immigration NZ immigration officer Theresia Tong states Ghaemmaghami was refused entry "because we are not satisfied that you are a bona fide temporary entry applicant, genuinely intending a temporary stay in New Zealand.

"In making this determination we have taken into consideration all information, documents, submissions and your personal circumstances submitted in support of this application. Based on the information that you have supplied, you do not appear to have strong social, economic and family ties to the country of origin or residence, and we believe these circumstances appear to limit or discourage you from departing New Zealand.

"We therefore are not satisfied that you are a bona fide visitor to New Zealand, genuinely intending a temporary stay for a lawful purpose."   

The trailer for the film can be seen here.

Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse was not able to be contacted on Saturday.

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Iranian film director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami.
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Iranian film director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami.

Sonita Alizada is using her skills as a rapper to highlight Afghanistan's enforced traditions of arranged marriages.
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Sonita Alizada is using her skills as a rapper to highlight Afghanistan's enforced traditions of arranged marriages.

A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami's film Sonita, which is included in the Documentary Edge festival.
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A scene from Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami's film Sonita, which is included in the Documentary Edge festival.

 - Sunday Star Times

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