Bruce Beresford has worked on US movies and TV shows for decades, so he was ill-prepared when US authorities cancelled his visa waiver.
The director told IF he and his wife Virginia Duigan were halted at the US-Canadian border at the Great Lakes last month and refused entry.
Their “crime”? Beresford and Duigan had visited the Fajr Film Festival and Market in Tehran in 2014, where the director served on the jury.
When he applied last December for the ESTA (Electronic System Travel Authorisation), which enables Aussies to visit the US without a visa for up to 90 days, he did not note that he had been to Iran because he did not realise the country was on the banned list imposed by President Trump.
When he asked a border official what would have happened if he had declared the visit to Iran, he was told the ESTA would have been refused.
Oddly, when Duigan received her ESTA there was no requirement to list trips to Middle Eastern countries.
Beresford is in Toronto editing Flint, a Lifetime Network original movie about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which stars Queen Latifah, Lyndie Greenwood, Rob Morrow, Jill Scott, Betsy Brandy and Marin Ireland. The film is based on a Time magazine story about the water emergency.
“We were pretty taken aback on the border. We were kept for about four hours, questioned and fingerprinted,” he said.
“I would have thought it was obvious we weren’t terrorists. The officers talking to us were polite but adamant we couldn’t enter the US. They knew I’d directed Driving Miss Daisy and a number of other American films.”
He was granted work visas for his last US projects, the Eddie Murphy movie Mr Church and miniseries Roots. He had also obtained a work visa for Flint as he had to go to the Michigan city to shoot some scenes there, but was afraid he would be refused entry.
Beresford said the officer on the gate looked at his computer and said, “You’ve been refused entry to the US. You’ll have to go inside“. So he went to the US border control building where an officer looked at his work visa and stamped it so he was finally allowed in.
The director and his wife will apply for ESTAs again but have no idea whether they will be approved.
In mid-July Beresford will return to Australia to start pre-production on Ladies in Black, his first Australian film since Mao’s Last Dancer.
Produced by Allanah Zitserman and Samson Productions’ Sue Milliken, the film is an adaptation, penned by Beresford and Sue Milliken, of Madeleine St John’s 1993 best-selling novel 'The Women in Black'.
Set in 1959, it tells the coming-of-age story of a suburban schoolgirl, who, while waiting for her final high school exam results, takes a summer job at a department store. There, a group of saleswomen open her eyes to a world beyond her sheltered existence.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has secured worldwide distribution rights to the film which has received production investment from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, with support from The University of Sydney.