Tinsel-town meets the Occupation at Oscars
The Israel-Palestine drama will play out at the Oscars
Films from each side of the settlement walls have broached the conflict at the Oscars, despite a detained director
By Amy Goodman, Comment is Free, Guardian
February 21, 2013
The Academy Awards ceremony will make history this year with the first ever nomination of a feature documentary made by a Palestinian. 5 Broken Cameras was filmed and directed by Emad Burnat, a resident of the occupied Palestinian West Bank town of Bil’in, along with his Israeli filmmaking partner Guy Davidi.
What does a Palestinian farmer wear on the red carpet in Hollywood? We were almost prevented from knowing, as Burnat, his wife and 8-year-old son were detained at Los Angeles International Airport and threatened with deportation. Despite his formal invitation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, it took the intervention of Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore, who now sits on the Academy Board of Governors, followed by Academy attorneys, for Burnat and his family to gain entry into the country.
5 Broken Cameras is in competition at the Oscars with an Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, a film that features interviews with the six surviving former directors of Israel‘s Shin Bet, the country’s secret internal security service, which functions as a sort of hybrid of the US FBI and CIA. In the film, all six condemn the current practices of Israeli occupation and settlement expansion.
In a remarkable case of life imitating art, as celebrities gather for the entertainment industry’s biggest gala of the year, the Israel/Palestine conflict is being played out on the streets of Tinseltown.
Hours after regaining his freedom, Burnat issued a statement that read:
“Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States. 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.”
He went on:
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.
Gibreel’s birth in 2005 was the motivation for the film. Emad Burnat got his first camera then, to record his fourth son growing up. At that time, the government of Israel began building the separation wall through Bil’in, provoking a campaign of nonviolent resistance from the Palestinian residents and their supporters. As Burnat recorded the protests, his cameras were smashed or shot, one by one, destroyed by the violent response from the Israeli army and the armed Israeli settlers.
Dror Moreh is the Israeli director of The Gatekeepers. Moreh told me:
The settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. If there is something that will prevent peace, it’s the settlements and the settlers. I think this is the largest and most influential and most powerful group in Israeli politics. They’re basically dictating the policy of Israel in the last years. I think that definitely for the Palestinians, the settlements are the worst enemy in their way to the homeland. When they see everywhere, in Judea and Samaria now, the settlements that are built like mushrooms after rain, they see how their country is shrinking.
Both 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers are up for the Oscar against other very compelling nominees: How to Survive a Plague, about the AIDS epidemic; The Invisible War, about rampant, unprosecuted rape in the U.S. military; and Searching for Sugar Man, about renewal for a musician long thought dead.
Burnat finished his statement on his detention at Los Angeles International Airport:
Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the 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.
Regardless of which documentary wins, the 2013 Oscars mark a historic shift in the public dialogue on Israel/Palestine, a long-overdue shift to which 40 million television viewers will be exposed.
By Huffington Post
February 20, 2013
Emad Burnat, the Palestinian who co-directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” was reportedly detained at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday night as he attempted to enter America to attend the Oscars, this according to filmmaker Michael Moore.
Burnat and his family were eventually released, according to Moore, but not before spending 90 minutes being held by immigration officials. Moore explained what happened to Burnat in a series of tweets to his 1.4 million followers:
Michael MooreEmad Burnat, Palestinian director of Oscar nominated “5 Broken Cameras” was held tonight by immigration at LAX as he landed to attend Oscars
Michael MooreEmad, 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.
Michael MooreApparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee. Emad texted me for help.
@MMFlint Michael MooreThis 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.
“5 Broken Cameras” focuses on Burnat, who chronicles several years of his life in the West Bank. From the official Oscars page:
As Israeli settlers begin building homes and erecting a barrier wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, a Palestinian farm worker documents the town’s resistance to the new settlement. Over the course of several years, the townspeople clash with the Israeli Defense Force, and tensions mount as the wall remains and the building continues.
Israeli officials have said that “5 Broken Cameras” is one of two Israeli documentaries up for an Oscar on Sunday (“The Gatekeepers” being the other), but the origin country of Burnat’s film has been a source of controversy throughout awards season. (“5 Broken Cameras” is a co-production of Israel, Palestine and France.)
“I’m Israeli, Emad is Palestinian, personally I don’t think films should have citizenships,” co-director Guy Davidi told The Electronic Intifada back in January.
“This is a Palestinian film from the heart, from the mind and from the soul,” Burnat said to HuffPost Live earlier this month about the film. “This is a Palestinian documentary.”
UPDATE, 2/20: Burnat released a statement about the incident on Wednesday afternoon, which you can read below:
Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States. 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.
By Jonathan Cook, The National
February 20, 2013
Israelis have been revelling in the prospect of an Oscar night triumph next week, with two Israeli-financed films among the five in the running for Best Documentary. But the country’s right-wing government is reported to be quietly fuming that the films, both of which portray Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in a critical light, have garnered so much attention following their nominations.
Guy Davidi, the Israeli co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, one of the finalists, said industry insiders had warned him that pressure was being exerted on the Academy to stop the films winning the award.
“Many people in Hollywood are working very hard to make sure that neither film wins,” he said. “From Israel’s point of view, an Oscar would be a public relations disaster and mean more people get to see our films.”
The film is a searing account by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat of a six-year period in his West Bank village during which the residents protested non-violently against an Israeli wall that cut off their farmland.
Israeli soldiers are shown beating, tear-gassing and shooting the villagers and solidarity activists.
The other Israeli-backed contender, The Gatekeepers, directed by Dror Moreh, features confessions by all six former heads of the Shin Bet, the main agency overseeing Israel’s occupation, since 1980. All are deeply critical of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians, with one even comparing it to the Nazis’ occupation of Europe.
Both films have won critical acclaim. This month The Gatekeepers won the Cinema for Peace Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film has also been picked up by a major distributor, Sony Pictures Classics.
With the Israeli media abuzz over the country’s Oscar hopes, the columnist Gideon Levy observed: “This is not a matter of Israeli pride but rather of Israeli chutzpah. … Israel should be ashamed of what these movies bring to light.”
Despite the publicity, showings of the films in Israel have been mainly limited to circles of intellectuals and left-wing activists.
Davidi said requests to the education ministry to put 5 Broken Cameras on the civics curriculum had been rebuffed. That appears to be in line with official efforts to avoid drawing attention to the documentaries.
The culture ministry, run by Limor Livnat, a hawkish ally of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, broke its silence to make a short, caustic comment. A spokesman, Meir Bardugo, said: “Israeli cinema doesn’t have to be anti-Israeli.”
Responding to claims from local film executives that Livnat had put pressure on them to start making films showing Israel in “a sweeter light”, Bardugo added: “If Livnat would interfere, these two films wouldn’t get to the Oscars.”
Paradoxically for the government, Israel’s claim to 5 Broken Cameras is disputed. Emad Burnat, the other co-director, said: “It’s my story. I am Palestinian and the film is about the struggle of my village in Palestine. If it wins, it will be a victory for Palestine, not Israel.”
Unlike the Best Foreign Language Film category, Oscar-nominated documentaries are not classified according to country. 5 Broken Cameras received US$250,000 (Dh918,000) from Israeli and French government film funds.
Nonetheless, the dispute echoes previous Oscar controversies, including claims that the Academy refused to consider Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention in 2002 because it did not recognise Palestine as a state, and a statement by Skandar Copti, the Palestinian-Israeli co-director of Ajami, that he would not “represent Israel” in the 2010 Oscars.
Both 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers exploit to the full the exclusive access the filmmakers had to their subject matter.
The former records in troubling detail confrontations between the Israeli army and the villagers, including a sensational scene in which a soldier fires directly at Burnat. The bullet lodges in his camera lens and saves his life.
However, of the two films, The Gatekeepers has polarised opinion most sharply in Israel and among many American Jews because its criticisms of the occupation are made from consummate insiders.
At a festival screening in Jerusalem last year, some audience members were reported to have shouted “Traitors!” at the former Shin Bet heads who attended.
Writing in the US weekly The Jewish Press this month, the psychology professor Phyllis Chesler argued that the $1.5 million-budget film followed “a lethal narrative script against the Jewish state”.
But the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour described The Gatekeepers as “full of stunning revelations”. It is rare for senior officials to break a code of silence designed to shield their activities from scrutiny.
The film was made in absolute secrecy, according to the director. “I knew I had dynamite in my hands.”
Moreh is scathing of Netanyahu for his inaction on Palestinian statehood, calling him “the biggest danger to Israelis”. The antipathy has apparently been reciprocated. Netanyahu’s spokesman has told the media that the prime minister has no plans to see the film.
Another new Israeli documentary, The Law in These Parts, which has been competing in festivals alongside 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, is causing similar unease among officials.
In it, some of the country’s top legal minds admit that their job was to create arbitrary and oppressive laws to control Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Lia Tarachansky, an Israeli-Canadian film-maker whose documentary Seven Deadly Myths interviews ageing former soldiers about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, said the new films were groundbreaking: “For the first time people who know the system from the inside are providing a very precise, even clinical, picture of the structure of the occupation.”
She echoed Davidi’s fears that pro-Israel lobbyists were trying to stop critical films reaching a mainstream audience. “There is a lot of blind support for Israel in the industry.”