LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) —Immigration officials briefly detained the Palestinian director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras” on his way into town for Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Emad Burnat said that when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Turkey with his wife and 8-year-old son late Tuesday, agents told them they didn’t have the proper proof that he was a nominee and would send them back if they couldn’t verify the reason for their visit.
“They started asking me questions and taking pictures,” Burnat told The Huffington Post. “I have the (Oscar) invitation in my iPhone. They told me, ‘We don’t care, we need more documents, we need papers, and if you don’t give us documents, we will send you back home.'”
Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore, a friend of Burnat’s and a champion of his work, said Burnat texted him from an airport holding area seeking help.
Moore said he made a few calls to leaders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who contacted some attorneys to clear up the matter. The Academy did not respond to a request for comment on Burnat’s detainment.
After about an hour of questioning, the agents allowed Burnat and his family to enter the country.
“It’s just shameful that as Americans…because we support, supposedly, this freedom of expression and movement and you can go where you want in the world… that he had to even go through a minute’s worth of detention at the Los Angeles International Airport,” said Moore.
Burnat had just been in the United States two weeks earlier doing interviews about the film alongside his co-director, Israeli activist Guy Davidi.
“I came to the United States this year six times. This is the first time this has happened to me,” said Burnat.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that it is prohibited from discussing specific cases, but noted that in general, “travelers may be referred for further inspection for a variety of reasons to include identity verification, intent of travel and confirmation of admissibility.”
“5 Broken Cameras,” the first Palestinian documentary ever nominated for an Oscar, has already won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cinema Eye Honors. It features footage that the olive farmer-turned-filmmaker shot using five cameras in his occupied West Bank village of Bil’in, from everyday activities with his family to protests and shootings. The son with whom he is traveling, Gibreel, was the inspiration for buying the first of these cameras in 2005; like so many parents, Burnat wanted to document the boy’s first steps and smiles.
But he also found himself wanting to capture the tension and fighting that are daily occurrences in the struggle for territory. In the film, his cameras keep getting destroyed in the violence.
Because of his experiences, Burnat said he’s gotten used to the kind of questioning he and his family underwent at LAX.
“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,” he said. “Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”
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