London film screening backs Oscar boycott director Ashgar Farhadi

Thousands of people braved London's winter drizzle on Sunday for a screening of the Oscar-nominated movie that has become a rallying point for opponents of US President Donald Trump's immigration policy.
Thousands gather to see the Oscar-nominated Iranian film The Salesman in Trafalgar Square in London on Sunday (Feb 26, 2017).
Thousands gather to see the Oscar-nominated Iranian film The Salesman in Trafalgar Square in London on Sunday (Feb 26, 2017).PHOTO: EPA
Director Asghar Farhadi speaks via a video link at the screening of his film The Salesman in Trafalgar Square on Sunday (Feb 26, 2017).
Director Asghar Farhadi speaks via a video link at the screening of his film The Salesman in Trafalgar Square on Sunday (Feb 26, 2017).PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Thousands of film fans gathered in London's Trafalgar Square Sunday for a screening of The Salesman by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is boycotting the Oscars over US President Donald Trump's policies.

Just hours before the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, where the film is vying for the Best Foreign Language Film award, the London landmark was transformed into a giant open-air cinema.

"Despite our different religions, nationalities and cultures, we are all citizens of the world. I'm very proud to be a member of this global family. I'm sorry not I'm not able to be here with you but I will be there in spirit," Farhadi said in a video message played ahead of the film.

Farhadi refused to attend the Oscars in protest at Trump's executive order banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

 

Speaking to AFP in Trafalgar Square, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the ban as "cruel" and "shameful".

"At a time when people are talking about travel bans, I want to welcome people," he said.

"At a time when people are motivating communities to divide, I want to unite them." Farhadi announced last month that he would not attend the ceremony even if the US government gave him special permission to travel despite coming from Iran, one of the countries on Trump's controversial list.

 

The Iranian filmmaker stuck by his decision even after a US court ruled against the travel ban.

An estimated 10,000 spectators attended the screening, which was also the British premiere of the film, according to the mayor's office.

One of the crowd, Amir Alamdara, said the event helped boost the profile of Iranian cinema.

"It galvanises people and it makes people more aware that Iranians have got something to offer to this world," he said.

Tanya Arafeh, a Palestinian, said she enjoyed the sense of unity in the central London square.

"I feel proud and empowered, I love the fact that everyone has come together to support each other and also just to have a nice day in London," she told AFP.

British director Mike Leigh addressed the crowd, saying the screening should be both a protest and a celebration.

"Our protest is of course against President Trump's cynical, divisive and destructive policies, especially this unforgivable travel ban," he said.

The film was followed by a mini concert by The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, who were joined by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

Around 50 film personalities, including Ridley Scott, Kiera Knightley, Terry Gilliam, Glenn Close and Julie Christie, signed a letter asking that the film be screened in front of the US Embassy in London.