DokuFest Executive Director Denied Visa for Attending 67th Berlinale Despite Invitation
Eroll Bilibani, Executive Director of the documentary festival DokuFest in Prizren, Kosovo, has been denied a visa required to attend the 67th Berlinale in Germany, despite an official invitation and valid accreditation. The documentary community has reacted with dismay when learning about the unexpected decision that prevented Mr. Bilibani from representing DokuFest at the renowned festival in Berlin.
In times of travel bans and refugee crises, one would think that it takes more than a denied visa to get worried about increasing restrictions that can prevent us from pursuing our profession in the way we should, especially across borders. The recent refusal by authorities to grant a visa for Eroll Bilibani is seen by many among the documentary community as an absurd decision that reminds us of how easily a series of planned festival visits incl. booked flight schedules can be rendered obsolete by a bureaucratic detail throughout the application process. Such a detail was, according to Mr. Bilibani, a missing private bank statement, that had never been asked for in the many years before, when Mr. Bilibani routinely received his annual business visa to attend European festivals.
"You start valuing some of your basic rights, such as freedom to travel, especially once they are taken. At the same time the immediate support that has come from the film community has been very uplifting and has continued to inspire me to take action and fight for our basic rights.", says Eroll Bilibani in reaction to the denied visa.
For many a documentary professional in Europe it is frustrating that they will not be able to meet Mr. Bilibani as a representative of DokuFest at the Berlinale and possibly other festivals he planned to attend in Germany. A certain irony lies in the fact that DokuFest mentions in their program description - as one of their objectives - the "Promotion of Human Rights and Democratic Values through Film". Mr. Bilbani and his team go to great lengths to bring documentary content from Kosovo to the world and vice versa. And yet, a missing element in the screening processs of the visa application led the German Embassy in Prishtina, Kosovo, to deny Mr. Bilibani access, apparently without further exploring the possibility of how to avoid such a fauxpas.
After inquiring for further details at the German Embassy, we have been informed by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin that the Embassy in Prishtina is currently in contact with Mr. Bilibani. The local embassy has further stated that a "timely" issuing of the visa seems possible.
While this is certainly too late for the Berlinale, it would at least secure Mr Bilibani's future travel plans to other European festivals.
UPDATE 17/02/2017: In the meantime we have been informed by Mr. Bilibani that the embassy has contacted him in order to reverse the decision, thereby making it possible for him to attend upcoming festivals throughout Europe.
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