18 Apr 2016

Award-winning doco maker's visa rejected

9:08 pm on 18 April 2016

Supporters of an Iranian filmmaker banned from visiting New Zealand say they will ask various government ministers to intervene.

Sonita Alizadeh and Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami accept the Audience Award for a world cinema documentary at the Sundance Film Festival Awards.

Sonita Alizadeh and Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami accept the Audience Award for a world cinema documentary at the Sundance Film Festival Awards. Photo: AFP

Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami was invited as a guest speaker and to show her film at the Documentary Edge Festival next month.

She has been travelling to festivals around the world to show her award-winning film Sonita, about an Afghan girl refugee-turned-rapper.

Speaking from San Francisco, she said she had been in Europe and Mexico and was travelling in the United States before planning to go to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

However, when she applied to come to New Zealand, she was rejected.

"They wrote a letter to me that because they are not sure that I won't stay in New Zealand forever, they can't give me a visa. They told me that I don't have enough financial and family ties in my own country."

Ghaemmaghami, who is based in the Iranian capital Tehran, said she had applied for the visitor's visa online while travelling in the US.

She said she received a letter yesterday from the New Zealand consulate in Washington DC saying New Zealand authorities did not believe she was a genuine visitor and it did not recognise the Documentary Edge festival, which had sent the invitation letter.

She said that many years ago as a young filmmaker she had been invited to a documentary festival in Canada and it had been a bit difficult getting a visa there but had no trouble getting visas for any of the other countries on her current film tour.

Festival director Dan Shanan said the decision was ridiculous and he would be making a formal approach to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse tomorrow.

"All we need is someone in power to look into this case to see that the wrong decision was made here and reverse it," he said.

"I mean, we advertised that Rokhsareh will be in New Zealand, she will hold masterclasses, have a Q and A with audiences, present her film - her film is in competition.

"We are trying to reach out to the ministers, to the minister of Immigration and others, the minister of culture and others in government who hopefully can look at this, see how ridiculous this is and reverse the decision."

Ghaemmaghami's film Sonita followed Afghan teenager Sonita Alizadeh, who was living in Tehran and dreamed of becoming a rap star. Her mother wanted to marry her off for $US9000.

In the film, she journeys back to Kabul to get a visa so she can go to school in the US.

Mr Shanan said Ghaemmaghami was frustrated about her visa and he was not willing to give up.

"This is our 11th edition of the festival and we never had something like that before so obviously it was a surprise for us too."

Immigration New Zealand said the case was being reviewed by its Washington office and a decision was expected shortly.