Members of the Toronto International Film Festival community came together Tuesday morning to call for the immediate release of award-winning filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room doctor Tarek Loubani.

The two Canadians were traveling to Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza when they were detained in a Cairo prison and where they’ve been held without formal charges since August 16.

Loubani, who is an Assistant professor at the School of Medicine at Western University, was to teach critical care procedures to doctors and hospital staff. Greyson was invited to film Loubani’s work at the hospital. Their arrest came after they asked for directions back to their hotel at a police station.

“John and Tarek were simply delayed in Egypt, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Cecilia Greyson, sister of John Greyson.

This morning at the TIFF Lightbox, filmmakers Atom Egoyan, Sarah Polley, TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan, writer Michael Ondaatje, and documentary film director Alex Gibney joined Cecilia Greyson to pressure Egyptian authorities to free the Canadians.

Cecilia Greyson gave an update on the situation of Greyson and Loubani, stating that the two were making the best of their circumstances and remained in high spirits since being detained. “It probably helps that Tarek is a doctor,” said Cecilia Greyson. They’re currently being kept in a single cell shared with thirty-eight male prisoners with one toilet, she added. The families have been in daily contact with the two and are working diligently towards their release.

The convening at TIFF was an opportunity for prominent film professionals and artists to express their concern and support for the release of Loubani and Greyson. “John Greyson is a talented documentary filmmaker who was imprisoned for trying to tell a story,” said Atom Egoyan. “The film community is deeply concerned by this attack on human rights and free expression. The Egyptian government needs to do the right thing and release Tarek and John immediately.”

Michael Ondaatje, according to Indiewire, said: “Writers and artists travel to dangerous places in the real world as well as their imagination …To benefit from and also to support [Greyson’s] work we have to defend his desire to [travel to dangerous places].”

Sarah Polley expressed how John Greyson, whom she first met as a teenager, “has inspired so many filmmakers… We are asking for your support to please bring them home.”

Festival-goers are showing support through wearing the #FreeTarekandJohn buttons designed specifically for this year’s festival. An open letter calling for the men’s release has been signed by more than 300 film figures, including Jafar Panahi, Mira Nair, Mike Leigh, Paul Haggis, Charlize Theron, Errol Morris, and Ben Affleck. A petition at tarekandjohn.com has gathered more than 110,000 signatories.

Cecilia Greyson mentioned that the two are scheduled to meet lawyers on Wednesday, although previous meetings have failed to take place.


For more information on the campaign please visit tarekandjohn.com

Jessica Ernst and Magic, near Rosebud, Alberta

Sana Malik

Sana Malik is a writer with extensive experience in international and community development. Born in the UK to Pakistani immigrants, she grew up between London, UK and the East Coast of Canada. She...