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Organizers: Several artists blocked from attending Twin Cities Arab Film Festival

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Updated: 6:58 p.m. | Posted: 5:06 p.m.

Federal authorities have denied permission for several actors and directors from the Middle East to visit Minnesota next week for the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, organizers said.

Mizna, a local Arab arts organization, is scheduled to hold the four-day event Sept. 27 at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.

The organization has over 30 films lined up for this year's festival, which will focus on the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Palestinian occupation.

Mizna has invited a number of artists to discuss their work with audiences. Organizers say this is the first time they've heard of visa denials especially from countries like Egypt — a U.S. ally.

But Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis has her visa interview scheduled for a date after the festival.

"Last year, for example, we hosted two Egyptian directors from Egypt with their films and they had no problem having their visas processed," said Lana Barkawi, executive and artistic director of Mizna. "Egypt hasn't historically been, in recent years, a country that we've encountered problems having visitors from, so this year seems unusual."

A Syrian director, Gaya Jiji, who's based in Paris, hasn't been granted a visa, according to Mizna. A Palestinian activist, Naila Ayesh, who's the subject of a documentary was also denied.

Organizers are waiting to hear whether an Iraqi director, Hakar Abdulqader, who has his interview scheduled this week, will be able to participate.

"Our plan is to have a great festival, have really great discussion with visitors who are able to attend," Barkawi said, "and just make sure that audiences know that this is happening and that their festival experience could have been that much richer if these denials didn't happen."

According to an email from a State Department official, the U.S. government agency is prohibited from discussing individual visa cases.

This is the 13th Twin Cities Arab Film Festival with a lineup that includes films from Palestine, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the UAE. It will also feature local Arab filmmakers.