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Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker detained briefly at LAX

By Michael Martinez, CNN
February 21, 2013 -- Updated 1040 GMT (1840 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Federal agency explains general policy
  • "Propaganda that they show the Palestinians as terrorists" is "not real," filmmaker says
  • Emad Burnat is nominated for "5 Broken Cameras," a documentary about West Bank
  • He and his family are eventually released, the publicist says

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The Palestinian maker of a film nominated for an Oscar was briefly detained by U.S. officials who questioned the validity of his Academy Awards invitation as he and his family arrived in Los Angeles for this weekend's event, his publicist told CNN on Wednesday.

The brief detention of Emad Burnat, a West Bank farmer who spent five years making his "5 Broken Cameras" home video in his village of Bil'in, was quickly criticized by fellow documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, whom Burnat had contacted for help while being questioned at Los Angeles International Airport.

U.S. authorities also placed Burnat's wife and 8-year-old son, Gibreel, in a holding area at the airport Tuesday night, Moore said on his Twitter account.

"Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn't understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help," Moore tweeted. "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."

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Julia Pacetti, Burnat's publicist, told CNN that Burnat e-mailed her and Moore about how "immigration authorities were telling him he needed to give them a reason for his visit.

"He asked me to send his invitation to the Oscars. But before I did, immigration authorities released him. It was a short-lived situation," Pacetti said.

Burnat told Moore that "It's nothing I'm not already used to" and "When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence," Moore wrote on his Twitter account.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was prohibited from discussing specific cases.

In a statement, the agency said it strives to treat travelers with respect. "Travelers may be referred for further inspection for a variety of reasons to include identity verification, intent of travel, and confirmation of admissibility," it said.

In an interview with CNN late Wednesday, Burnat said the experience reminded him of the more than 500 Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank.

"The negative media and the government propaganda that they show the Palestinians as terrorists, as not human, a bad face -- this is not true and this is not real and this is what makes life difficult for Palestinians," Burnat said.

"It is very important for me to be attending the Oscars because this is the first time a Palestinian documentary has been nominated for the Oscars," he said.

The title "5 Broken Cameras" refers to the damage to the filmmaker's equipment while documenting local resistance to encroaching Israeli settlements and the construction of an Israeli wall separating farmers from their lands and olive groves.

Burnat was the only cameraman in the village, sometimes recording violent events. He was jailed and put under house arrest in 2006 "after which, his cameras were broken," the film's website says.

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The film is told from a Palestinian perspective, though it is co-directed by Burnat's Israeli friend Guy Davidi, a filmmaker and peace activist.

In the documentary, Burnat captured how the ongoing conflict influenced the life of his son, Gibreel. Burnat recorded some of his boy's first words: army, cartridge and the Arabic word for the security fence separating Israel and the West Bank.

"Our kids grow up like this, in this situation. So they open their eyes and they are facing the soldiers around the houses, in the streets. And they talk about the army and the soldiers," Burnat told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

In a recent interview with CNN in the West Bank, Burnat said his son has lost much of his innocence.

Speaking in Arabic, Gibreel remarked to CNN's Sara Sidner about the nomination: "The Oscar ... half should go to us and half to the Palestinian people."

Davidi said he knew his work with Burnat would be criticized.

"The minute we decided the film was going to be Emad as the main character," Davidi said, "then, it was much more comfortable for me, as an Israeli, to work with Emad, because I'm helping him shape his voice and not interfering with my own voice."

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CNN's Joe Sutton contributed from Los Angeles. Carolyn Sung also contributed.

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