Oscar-nominated Palestinian director Emad Burnat was detained on LAX as he entered the U.S. on Tuesday for this week’s awards ceremony and his family threatened with deportation.
Emad Burnat says that when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Turkey with his wife and 8-year-old son, customs 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.
The director had brought his family to Los Angeles for Sunday’s Oscars where his documentary 5 Broken Cameras has been nominated for an Academy Award.
After about an hour of questioning, the agents allowed Emad Burnat and his family to enter the country.
Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore said on his website that he helped clear up the matter by making some phone calls to Oscars’ officials on Emad Burnat’s behalf.
Emad Burnat had been in the United States two weeks earlier doing interviews about the film alongside his co-director, Israeli activist Guy Davidi.
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.”
Michael Moore, a friend of Emad Burnat’s and a champion of his work, wrote on his website, michaelmoore.com, that Burnat texted him from an airport holding area seeking help.
He 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.
Michael Moore tweeted: “Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help.”
5 Broken Cameras, the first Palestinian documentary ever nominated for an Oscar, already has won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cinema Eye Honors.
The documentary 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, Emad Burnat wanted to document the boy’s first steps and smiles.
However, 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, Emad Burnat said in a statement on Wednesday, he’s gotten used to the kind of questioning he and his family underwent at LAX.
Emad Burnat said: “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.”