Oscar-Nominated Palestinian Filmmaker Detained at LAX, Michael Moore Intervenes

Emad Burnat Sundance - P 2013
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Emad Burnat Sundance - P 2013

UPDATED: Emad Burnat, whose "5 Broken Cameras" is nominated for best documentary, was held as he arrived for Oscar week; he has since issued a detailed statement about the incident.

Emad Burnat, the first Palestinian documentary filmmaker nominated for an Academy Award, narrowly avoided a mix-up Tuesday at a Los Angeles airport that could have barred him from attending the ceremony.

Burnat, co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, was detained along with his family by immigration officials after arriving at LAX, his representative confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He was released after questioning. Michael Moore, a governor of the Academy's documentary branch and a champion of Burnat's film, helped clear up the situation.

"Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at U.S. immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States," Burnat said in a statement issued to THR. "Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary 5 Broken Cameras and they told me that if I couldn't prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day. After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: 'Maybe we'll have to go back.' I could see his heart sink.

Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout he West Bank. There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day."

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"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," he wrote. "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."

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5 Broken Cameras focuses on Burnat's small Palestinian village and the peaceful resistance it has waged against encroaching Israeli settlements. Shot on small digital cameras and co-directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, the film won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance in 2012 and this year's Cinema Eye Award, which Moore accepted Jan. 10 on Burnt and Davidi's behalf.

"To live in a small town, small village, and just to be traveling around the world to many countries and many festivals and to get many awards, it’s very exciting," Burnat recently told THR. "This was important for me, you know. I didn’t expect that the film would be very successful, and I didn’t expect the success. It’s not just for me, the success is for my village and my people in Palestine."

Moore told THR: "[5 Broken Cameras] isn’t just one of the best documentaries of the year, it’s one of the best movies of this year. I’d put it on the same level as any of the other great fiction films made this year."