John Greyson in Berlin
(March 2, 2021 – Toronto, ON) John Greyson’s latest project was anything but a solo effort. The Toronto-based filmmaker joined with 40 other filmmakers around the world to produce the short International Dawn Chorus Day, which will have its World Premiere tomorrow at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Shot during the pandemic, the film uses a Zoom call visual to offer a bird song for the lost lives of Egyptian filmmaker Shady Habash and Egyptian queer activist, Sarah Hegazi, who lost their lives enduring the horrors of wrongful detention.
Shady Habash was known for his satiric anti-dictator music videos, and died in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison, the day before the 36th annual International Dawn Chorus Day (May 3, 2020). Egyptian queer activist Sarah Hegazi, famously incarcerated for flying a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert, lived in Toronto as a refugee and took her own life a month after International Dawn Chorus Day.
Having experienced jail time in Cairo during the Arab Spring in 2013, John Greyson reminds audiences stuck in “lockdown” of the real struggles that so many Egyptian activists and artists continue to face in the detention and imprisonment systems in the Arab world.
“For me, these two stories combined to deliver a peculiar gut punch,” said John Greyson. “Seven years earlier, I’d been locked up in that same prison, jailed in a roundup with hundreds of others in the aftermath of the Rabaa Square Massacre. As I learned more about Shady’s life and work and death, and watched his videos, and read his final despairing letters that friends had smuggled out of prison, his words viscerally brought back memories of Tora. Staring at the dawn ceiling, watching the night shadows recede into the cool grey of morning. Straining to hear the faint call of the dawn chorus. “Prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does.”
International Dawn Chorus Day is one of only 20 short films selected for this year’s Berlinale screening in the Documentary + Experimental programme on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, and Friday, March 5, 2021.