More than anything else, TIFF is about supporting people who want to tell stories. At a press conference today, festival mainstays Atom Egoyan, Sarah Polley and Alex Gibney, along with the Lightbox’s artistic director Noah Cowan and author Michael Ondaatje, presented a petition calling for the release of Toronto filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room physician Tarek Loubani, who have been detained for 25 days in a Cairo prison without charges. Greyson, a documentarian and York University professor, was invited to observe and film Loubani’s work in Gaza, where the doctor teaches critical care procedures. The two were delayed in Egypt, travelling through Cairo at a particularly unstable time, and were arrested asking for directions at a police station—a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Greyson’s sister, Cecelia Greyson, who’s spearheading the Free Tarek and John campaign, says that the two prisoners are currently in good health and spirits, but “we are extremely concerned for their safety, and want them to come home.” The petition presented by Egoyan, Polley et. al. has been signed by more than 300 influential voices in the academic and arts communities, including Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Colin Firth, Girls creator Lena Dunham, German filmmaker Wim Wenders, star documentarian Errol Morris and lit world luminaries George Saunders, John Lethem, Dione Brand and Naomi Klein. The Free Tarek and John initiative has also gathered 100,000 signatures in an online petition.