The Palestinian co-director of Best Documentary Feature Oscar 2013 nominee 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, was held for more than one hour by American immigration officials upon his arrival in Los Angeles from Turkey on Tuesday evening. That same evening, Burnat was expected at a dinner party for the Documentary Feature nominees; the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony takes place next Sunday. (Photo: Palestinian director Emad Burnat.)
Instead, Burnat, his wife, and 8-year-old son, Gibreel, who is featured in 5 Broken Cameras, were stuck at the Los Angeles International Airport, and threatened with deportation that same day in case the Palestinian farmer-turned-director failed to show proof that he was an Academy Award nominee. (A bizarre request, considering that Burnat's Oscar "credentials" could easily have been verified online.)
Michael Moore comes to the rescue
Oscar winner Michael Moore (for the documentary Bowling for Columbine), one of the heads of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Documentary Branch and one of the hosts at the Academy's dinner party, tweeted about the issue.
Emad Burnat, Palestinian director of Oscar nominated 5 Broken Cameras was held tonight by immigration at LAX as he landed to attend Oscars
Emad, his wife & 8-yr old son were placed in a holding area and told they didn't have the proper invitation on them to attend the Oscars.
Although he produced the Oscar invite nominees receive, that wasn't good enough & he was threatened with being sent back to Palestine.
Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn't understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help.
I called Academy officials who called lawyers. I told Emad to give the officers my phone # and to say my name a couple of times.
After 1.5 hrs, they decided to release him & his family & told him he could stay in LA for the week & go to the Oscars. Welcome to America.
"It's nothing I'm not already used to," he told me later. "When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence."
Emad Burnat, Palestinian farmer turned filmmaker, director of 5 Broken Cameras, the 1st Palestinian doc ever nominated for the Oscar.
This all just happened tonight, a few hours ago. He was certain they were going to deport him. But not if I had anything to do about it.
Later on, Michael Moore wrote on his blog an essay about the U.S. Immigration Officers vs. Emad Burnat episode.
"He said they would not believe him when he told them he was an Oscar-nominated director on his way to this Sunday's Oscars and to the events in LA leading up to the ceremony. He is also a Palestinian. And an olive farmer. Apparently that was too much for Homeland Security to wrap its head around.
"'They are saying they are going to put us on the next plane back to Amman,' he told me.
"I immediately contacted the Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and COO Ric Robertson, who in turn told Academy President Hawk Koch. They got ahold of the Academy's attorney who is also partners with a top immigration attorney and they went to work on it. I called the State Department in DC.
"I told Emad to give the Homeland Security people my name and cell number and to have them call me ASAP so I could explain who he was and why they should let him go.
"After being held for somewhere between one and two hours, with repeated suggestions that the U.S. may not let him into the country – saying that they may send him back home – the authorities relented and released Emad and his family."
American immigration officials declined to comment on the incident.
Emad Burnat Oscar 2013 questionnaire responses
In his Academy-sponsored Oscar 2013 questionnaire, when asked about his reaction to his nomination, Emad Burnat wrote the following: "In total shock! Excited for a victory for myself, but more importantly all of Palestine!"
The first movie Burnat ever saw was Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, while "who or what inspires" him is "Michael Moore; he is a master of documentary films. He captures his audience and shifts their perceptions through film."
5 Broken Cameras
Co-directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, 5 Broken Cameras chronicles five years of non-violent protests in Emad Burnat's village of Bil'in in the West Bank, where the Israeli government wanted to build a wall straight through the village – and where the Israeli army was caught on camera shooting at unarmed Palestinian civilians.
5 Broken Cameras' competitors in the Best Documentary Feature category are Dror Moreh's The Gatekeepers, David France's How to Survive a Plague, Kirby Dick's The Invisible War, and Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man.