Today Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including violating the Espionage Act, releasing classified information and disobeying orders. That’s the bad news. The good news is he was found not guilty on the charge of “aiding the enemy.” That’s ‘cause who he was aiding was us, the American people. And we’re not the enemy. Right?
Manning now faces a potential maximum sentence of 136 years in jail. When his sentence is announced, we’ll all get a good idea of how seriously the U.S. military takes different crimes. When you hear about how long Manning – now 25 years old – will be in prison, compare it to sentences received by other soldiers:
Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib and the senior officer present the night of the murder of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, received no jail time. But he was reprimanded and fined $8,000. (Pappas was heard to say about al-Jamadi, “I’m not going down for this alone.”)
Sgt. Sabrina Harman, the woman famously seen giving a thumbs-up next to al-Jamadi’s body and in another photo smiling next to naked, hooded Iraqis stacked on each other in Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to six months for maltreating detainees.
Spec. Armin Cruz was sentenced to eight months for abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and covering up the abuse.
Spc. Steven Ribordy was sentenced to eight months for being accessory to the murder of four Iraqi prisoners who were “bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a canal” in Baghdad in 2007.
Spc. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to seven months for conspiracy to commit murder in the same case.
Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for committing the four Baghdad murders. The military then granted him clemency and reduced his sentence to 20 years, with parole possible after seven.
Marine Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich received no jail time for negligent dereliction in the massacre of 24 unarmed men, women and children in 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Seven other members of his battalion were charged but none were punished in any way.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate and Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson were both sentenced to 21 months for the aggravated assault of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, a father of 11 and grandfather of four, in Al Hamdania in 2006. Awad died after being shot during the assault. Their sentences were later reduced.
Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington was sentenced to eight years for the same incident, but served only a few months before being granted clemency and released from prison.
Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III was sentenced to 15 years for murder in the Awad case but his conviction was soon overturned and he was released.
No soldiers received any punishment for the killing of five Iraqi children, four women and two men in one Ishaqi home in 2006. Among the U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by Bradley Manning was email from a UN officialstating that U.S. soldiers had “executed all of them.” When Wikileaks published the cable, the uproar in Iraq was so big that the Nouri al-Maliki government couldn’t grant any remaining U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, thus forcing the Obama administration to abandon its plans to keep several thousand U.S. soldiers in Iraq permanently. All U.S. troops were removed at the end of 2011.
My guess is Bradley Manning will spend more time in jail than all of the other soldiers in all of these cases put together. And thus, instead of redeeming ourselves and asking forgiveness for the crimes that Spc. Manning exposed, we will reaffirm to the world who we really are.
This past week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the main federation of Hollywood’s six major studios, posted on their web site a list of what they believe are some of the best movie theaters in the world.
And listed as #1 is the historic State Theatre of Traverse City, Michigan, an incredible movie palace which I restored and now run as a nonprofit theater — along with a few hundred great volunteers!
This month, we will sell our one-millionth admission ticket since we opened five-and-a-half years ago. What makes this statistic even more remarkable is that Traverse City’s year-round population here in remote northern Michigan is only 16,000 people. And mostly we show only “smaller” indie and foreign films that open nationwide on less than 200 screens.
Even with those limitations, in the 289 weeks we’ve been open, for 78 of those weeks, the State Theatre has been the #1 grossing theater in the country for the movie we happen to be showing. We’ve placed in the top 10 grossing cities for 171 of those weeks (the other cities on that list are usually New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C., Dallas, Boston, etc.).
So how in the name of trees that are right height does this happen?
Here is our basic recipe:
1. We only show really good movies. Nothing that aspires to the mediocre is shown at the State.
2. We reject the need to make a profit and, by doing so, we’ve been in the black since day one.
3. We don’t rip people off. You can see a first-run movie for $8 and $6 (kids are less). Late night on the weekend is 2 for $5. We have 25-cent kids matinees on Saturday mornings (often packed with 580 people in attendance) and 25-cent classic movie matinees on Wednesdays. As for the concessions: No $10 popcorn at our place! Popcorn is as low as $2, soda $2 and candy as low as $1. We believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the movies.
4. This is the community’s theater. Like in a co-op, everyone pitches in as a volunteer. Volunteers pop the corn, take the tickets and run the box office. Community groups pick the shift they’d like to work each month, which means on any given night you’ll have a county judge and a single mom working the concession counter, the high school English staff working as the ushers, and the Boy Scout troop on clean-up. Everybody gets free movies tickets for this — and the knowledge that they are the true “owners” of this theater.
(The paid positions, like the theater managers and our professional projectionists, are paid a good livable wage with full health benefits.)
5. This theater has perhaps the best projection and sound in the country. We show movies the way they were meant to be seen (and on a huge 50-foot screen). We have the most comfortable theater seats that you’ll ever sit in (made in Michigan, like many things in the theater). There’s a theater organ that rises out of the stage. A red velvet curtain ascends at the beginning of every movie, and the ceiling above you has 3,000 tiny lights that make up the constellations as they actually appear in the night sky over Traverse City in the fall.
Filmmakers from Wim Wenders to Paul Mazursky to David O. Russell have shown their films in person at the State, and they will tell you that the State Theatre is one of a kind. I tell them, “If they’d let us filmmakers design the theaters, the public would be amazed at the difference in the theater-going experience.”
6. Other than our coming attractions, we will never show a commercial before any of our films. You came here to see a movie, not watch TV.
7. Our cell phone policy is simple: If we catch you talking on the phone, texting or checking your mail, you will be banned from the theater for life. Zero tolerance for those who are there to annoy the people who are there to watch a movie in peace.
8. Each summer we present the Traverse City Film Festival at the State Theatre and seven other venues. We have 100,000 admissions each year and and this year’s fest will take place July 30-August 4.
There’s a lot more, but you get the picture. We’ve created a comfortable, pleasant place to disappear into the dark and be transported by an excellent movie. Shouldn’t every town — especially the small ones — have this? We’d be happy to share with anyone who’d like our help.
In three years, in 2016, we’ll celebrate the 100th anniversary of movies being shown on the site of the State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan. If you love the cinema and if you are ever in our area, please stop by to experience what going to the movie palace was like many, many years ago.
We offer our deep appreciation to the Motion Picture Association of America for this honor of being named one of the best places in the world to see a movie.
President, State Theatre and Traverse City Film Festival
Board of Directors
Terry George (director, ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ Oscar winner)
Larry Charles (director, ‘Borat’)
Christine Lahti (actress, Oscar winner)
Rod Birleson (co-producer, ‘Roger & Me,’ ‘Sicko,’ ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’)
Sabina Guzanti (acclaimed Italian filmmaker and satirist)
John Robert Williams (photographer)
This evening is going be a big moment in turning our country around on the issue of gun violence. That’s why I desperately want you to be part of it! Please join me and thousands of others in a virtual grassroots nationwide townhall from your own living room.
Here’s how it’s going to work tonight:
First, right now, email or text two or six or twelve of your family members, friends, neighbors, classmates or co-workers. Invite them over to your house to a first-ever nationwide movie screening/live townhall on the issue of “No More Newtowns, No More Columbines.” Tell them if they come, they are going to be able to say they were there on the night that began the demise of the late, great gun lobby in America. The night We, the People, took over and reduced the senseless gun violence gripping our nation. We have had ENOUGH!
Second, you’ll need a TV or computer screen and an internet connection because we are all going to watch ‘Bowling for Columbine’ together! Ten years ago tonight, ‘Bowling for Columbine’ won the Academy Award – and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the anniversary of that crazy night than with all of you. And after the movie I will join you and thousands of other house gatherings in a live stream Q & A and panel discussion beamed straight from here in New York City right into your homes via The Internets.
Third, get the movie. You may already have a dvd. Or you can rent/buy one at your local video store today. Or better yet, you can stream the movie FOR FREE from Netflix. Even if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you can watch it for free tonight by clicking here and getting a free one-month membership. Our thanks to Netflix for making this happen. (There are also other ways to stream the movie.)
Fourth, make sure you have the best internet connection possible so that, after the movie, we can live stream the town hall Q & A into your home (and even the slowest internet connections will be able to just hear the audio).
Here’s the rundown of how the evening will go:
(All times Eastern Daylight Savings time)
6:45 pm – Ask the people coming over because you need to start watching the movie at 7:00 pm sharp.
7:00 pm – Begin watching ‘Bowling for Columbine’
9:00 pm – Movie ends. Go here at Moveon.org and click on the link that will then bring me live into your living room for the Q & A and panel discussion, direct from my “house party” in New York City. We will discuss concrete actions of what you can do. We will organize ourselves into one big mass movement, the likes of which Congress has never seen on this issue.
10:00 pm – Live townhall meeting is concluded and we’ll all have our “marching orders”!
If you live in a different time zone, either join us live at the above ET times, or hold it whenever you want today/tonight. The important thing is that the townhall will take place live just once, at roughly 9:00 pm ET. So participate in that before, during or after you show the movie.
We will have specific things that you can do, starting tonight, that will force Congress to do the right thing when it comes to guns.
So call a few people up right now and invite them over. Tell them I’m having a party! At your house! And let’s see if the will of the majority can finally win, once and for all.
See you tonight!
P.S. If you also want to join in on the 10th anniversary celebration of the film’s Oscar, I haven’t figured out how to pour champagne yet over the Internet yet, but you can begin the evening by showing the clip of the riot that went down when I gave my Oscar speech that night of March 23, 2003.
I am hosting a nationwide series of house parties this Saturday night where tens of thousands of people will gather together in living rooms to watch ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and then hold a live “town hall” to discuss what the 310 million of us who aren’t members of the NRA are going to do about our continual gun tragedies.
Please, please join me and be part of this! With Senator Harry Reid this week announcing he’s too afraid to bring the assault weapons bill up for a vote – “because we’ll lose!” – you can see how now more than ever that if we the people, on a mass, grassroots level, don’t get it together, the status quo will remain the same and we can just sit back and wait for next week’s gun massacre.
So, I don’t know what you’re doing Saturday night, but I’m asking you to please spend it with me. I need you to email or text or call a few friends, family members, neighbors or co-workers and invite them over to you home to be part of the virtual nationwide gathering – first to watch my movie, and then to participate live, online, with me and a panel I’ve put together to discuss a plan of ACTION. And, as Saturday is only two days away, I need you to make those calls and send those texts TODAY.
Thanks to the good people at Netflix, you’ll be able to watch ‘Bowling for Columbine’ for free this Saturday! Last night we got a call from them and they told us they will stream the movie for free starting tomorrow so everyone can watch it. If you’re already on Netflix, then you’re all set. If you’re not, they’ll give you a free one-month trial subscription so you can stream the movie into your home on Saturday.
There are many other ways to get the movie too, just click here.
This nationwide movie night/town hall is being put on by a number of groups including Moveon, USAction, Progressive Democrats of America, RootsAction and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. This is going to be a big night, so please be part of it. Our plan is to watch the movie at 7:00 PM ET. You can watch it then or you can watch it earlier or later, depending on when’s best to have people over to your house. The only thing that’s at a fixed time is the live online Q &A/discussion with me. That will happen at approximately 9:00 PM ET. It will also be available later on my website in case you can’t join us until 10:00 or 11:00 PM.
Friends, this is the moment to make this happen. The gun lobby is on the ropes but they are confident of victory because there is no comparable group as big and as well-funded on our own side to fight them. What we do have is the majority of Americans who have spoken loud and clear since Newtown that we want, at the bare minimum, some sensible laws passed to bring this gun violence down.
The time is now. Call your friends today and invite them over on Saturday night. We can do this if we all start to act.
See you Saturday!
The response to my Newtown letter this week has been overwhelming. It is so very clear to everyone that the majority of Americans have had it with how we as a country have recklessly allowed the NRA and the gun manufacturers to get away, literally, with murder.
That, right now, is going to come to an end.
The “tipping point” against the gun madness has taken place because of the tragic slaughter of 20 little children in Connecticut. This time, the shock and horror didn’t subside after a few weeks, as it did after the 30+ massacres since Columbine. This time we haven’t been able to shake it from our collective consciousness. This time – and the NRA knows this – this time we the people aren’t going to quiet down. We are demanding real action.
In the past few days, a number of people and grassroots groups have suggested to me that we do something to use ‘Bowling for Columbine to rally thousands – millions – to come together and kick-off a massive spring action to get gun control laws passed. I love this idea and I have agreed to participate in helping to launch it.
So, next Saturday, March the 23rd, on the 10th anniversary of the evening that ‘Bowling for Columbine’ won the Academy Award, MoveOn.org is sponsoring a screening with me in New York City and other groups are joining together to ask you and thousands of others to host a nationwide gathering in your homes where you invite friends and neighbors to come over and watch the movie together – and then, afterward, I will join you LIVE, via the Web, in your living rooms to talk to you, take your questions/suggestions and decide what we are all going to do.
I am asking the nearly five million of you who receive this email, plus my 1.5 million followers on Twitter and my nearly 800,000 Facebook friends, to set aside next Saturday night, March 23rd, and invite people over to your home to watch my movie and have a talk with me and others who will lead this mass movement for gun control action.
Over the next few days I will send you more details, but I just wanted to get the word out today, after so many thousands of you have written me via email and Twitter, and ask you to hold the date for next Saturday and start to get the word around to your friends and family. I’ll let you know the easiest ways to get a copy of the film for free or nearly free so you can show it in your living rooms. And I’ll let you know how to “beam me in” when the movie is over. By the end of that night, my hope is that we will have a peaceful but fierce army of millions making their voices heard to those who represent us on Capitol Hill. We will, instantly, vastly outnumber the NRA and the gun lobby.
And for the sake of our children and the future of this great country, we will win.
Let everyone know – next Saturday, March 23rd, we’re all getting together to watch ‘Bowling for Columbine’ in thousands of “house parties” across America, and I will be there with you, thanks to the wonders of 21st century technology.
See you on the 23rd in your living room! Now is the moment to make this happen.
The year was 1955. Emmett Till was a young African American boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi. One day Emmett was seen “flirting” with a white woman in town, and for that he was mutilated and murdered at the age of fourteen. He was found with part of a cotton gin tied around his neck with a string of barbed wire. His killers, two white men, had shot him in the head before they dumped him in the river.
Emmett Till’s body was found and returned to Chicago. To the shock of many, his mother insisted on an open casket at his funeral so that the public could see what happens to a little boy’s body when bigots decide he is less than human. She wanted photographers to take pictures of her mutilated son and freely publish them. More than 10,000 mourners came to the funeral home, and the photo of Emmett Till appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation.
"I just wanted the world to see," she said. "I just wanted the world to see."
The world did see, and nothing was ever the same again for the white supremacists of the United States of America. Because of Emmett Till, because of that shocking photograph of this little dead boy, just a few months later, “the revolt officially began on December 1, 1955” (from Eyes on the Prize) when Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The historic bus boycott began and, with the images of Emmett Till still fresh in the minds of many Americans, there was no turning back.
In March of 1965, the police of Selma, Alabama, brutally beat, hosed and tear-gassed a group of African Americans for simply trying to cross a bridge during a protest march. The nation was shocked by images of blacks viciously maimed and injured. So, too, was the President. Just one week later, Lyndon Johnson called for a gathering of the U.S. Congress and he went and stood before them in joint session and told them to pass a bill he was introducing that night – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, just five months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
In March, 1968, U.S. soldiers massacred 500 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam. A year and a half later, the world finally saw the photographs – of mounds of dead peasants covered in blood, a terrified toddler seconds before he was gunned down, and a woman with her brains literally blown out of her head. (These photos would join other Vietnam War photos, including a naked girl burned by napalm running down the road, and a South Vietnamese general walking up to a handcuffed suspect, taking out his handgun, and blowing the guy’s brains out on the NBC Nightly News.)
With this avalanche of horrid images, the American public turned against the Vietnam War. Our realization of what we were capable of rattled us so deeply it became very hard for future presidents (until George W. Bush) to outright invade a sovereign nation and go to war there for a decade.
Bush was able to pull it off because his handlers, Misters Cheney and Rumsfeld, knew that the most important thing to do from the get-go was to control the images of the war, to guarantee that nothing like a My Lai-style photograph ever appeared in the U.S. press.
And that is why you never see a picture any more of the kind of death and destruction that might make you get up off your couch and run out of the house screaming bloody murder at those responsible for these atrocities.
That is why now, after the children’s massacre in Newtown, the absolute last thing the National Rifle Association wants out there in the public domain is ANY images of what happened that tragic day.
But I have a prediction. I believe someone in Newtown, Connecticut – a grieving parent, an upset law enforcement officer, a citizen who has seen enough of this carnage in our country – somebody, someday soon, is going to leak the crime scene photos of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And when the American people see what bullets from an assault rifle fired at close range do to a little child’s body, that’s the day the jig will be up for the NRA. It will be the day the debate on gun control will come to an end. There will be nothing left to argue over. It will just be over. And every sane American will demand action.
Of course, there will be a sanctimonious hue and cry from the pundits who will decry the publication of these gruesome pictures. Those who do publish or post them will be called “shameful” and “disgraceful” and “sick.” How could a media outlet be so insensitive to the families of the dead children! Someone will then start a boycott of the magazine or website that publishes them.
But this will be a false outrage. Because the real truth is this: We do not want to be confronted with what the actual results of a violent society looks like. Of what a society that starts illegal wars, that executes criminals (or supposed criminals), that strikes or beats one of its women every 15 seconds, and shoots 30 of its own citizens every single day looks like. Oh, no, please – DO NOT MAKE US LOOK AT THAT!
Because if we were to seriously look at the 20 slaughtered children – I mean really look at them, with their bodies blown apart, many of them so unrecognizable the only way their parents could identify them was by the clothes they were wearing – what would be our excuse not to act? Now. Right now. This very instant! How on earth could anyonenot spring into action the very next moment after seeing the bullet-riddled bodies of these little boys and girls?
We don’t know exactly what those Newtown photographs show. But I want you – yes, you, the person reading this right now – to think about what we do know:
The six-year and seven-year-old children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were each hit up to eleven times by a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The muzzle velocity of a rifle like the AR-15 is about three times that of a handgun. And because the kinetic energy of a bullet equals one-half of the bullet’s mass multiplied by its velocity squared, the potential destructive power of a bullet fired from a rifle is about nine times more than that of a similar bullet fired from a handgun.
Nine times more. I spoke to Dr. Victor Weedn, chairman of the Department of Forensic Sciences at George Washington University, who told me that chest x-rays of a person shot with a rifle will often look like a “snowstorm” because their bones will have been shattered into fragments. This happens not just because of the bullet’s direct impact, but because each bullet sends a shock wave through the body’s soft organs – one so powerful it can break bones even when the bullet didn’t hit them. A video here shows what the shock wave looks like in the “ballistic gelatin” used by experts to simulate human tissue. (Would Gabby Giffords have survived if shot by a rifle rather than a Glock pistol? Probably not, says Dr. Weedn; the shock wave would have damaged the most critical parts of her brain.)
As horrifying as this is, there’s more; much more. Dr. Cyril Wecht, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, told me this:
The kind of ammunition used by the Newtown killer would have produced very extensive, severe and mutilating injuries of the head and face in these small victims. Depending on the number of shots striking a child’s head, substantial portions of the head would be literally blasted away. The underlying brain tissue would be extensively lacerated with portions of hemorrhagic brain tissue protruding through the fractured calvarium and basilar skull, some of which would remain on portions of the face…actual physical identification of each child would have been extremely difficult, and in many instances impossible, even by the parents of any particular child.
We also know this, according to Dr. Wecht:
In one case, the parents have commented publicly upon the damage to their child, reporting that his chin and left hand were missing. Most probably, this child had brought his hand up to his face in shock and for protection and had the hand blasted away along with the lower part of his face.
Veronique Pozner, the mother of Noah, the six-year-old boy described by Dr. Wecht, insisted that the Governor of Connecticut look at Noah in an open casket. “I needed it to be real to him,” she said. The Governor wept.
The pictures showing all this exist right now, somewhere in the police and medical examiner’s files in Connecticut. And as of right now, we’ve somehow all decided together that we don’t need to look, that in some way we’re okay with what’s in those pictures (after all, over 2,600 Americans have been killed by guns since Newtown) – just as long as we don’t have to look at the pictures ourselves.
But I am telling you now, that moment will come with the Newtown photos – and you will have to look. You will have to look at who and what we are, and what we’ve allowed to happen. At the end of World War II, General Eisenhower ordered that thousands of German civilians be forced to march through the concentration camps so they could witness what was happening just down the road from them during the years that they turned their gaze away, or didn’t ask, or didn’t do anything to stop the murder of millions.
We’ve done nothing since Columbine – nothing – and as a result there have been over 30 other mass shootings since then. Our inaction means that we are all, on some level, responsible – and therefore, because of our burying our heads in the sand, we must be forced to look at the 20 dead children at Sandy Hook Elementary.
The people we’ve voted for since Columbine – with the exception of Michael Bloomberg – almost none of them, Democrat or Republican, dared to speak out against the NRA before Newtown – and yet we, the people, continued to vote for them. And for that we are responsible, and that is why we must look at the 20 dead children.
Most of us continue to say we “support the Second Amendment” as if it were written by God (or we’re just afraid of being seen as anti-American). But this amendment was written by the same white men who thought a Negro was only 3/5 human. We’ve done nothing to revise or repeal this – and that makes us responsible, and that is why we must look at the pictures of the 20 dead children laying with what’s left of their bodies on the classroom floor in Newtown, Connecticut.
And while you’re looking at the heinous photographs, try saying those words out loud: “I support the Second Amendment!” Something, I’m guessing, won’t feel right.
Yes, someday a Sandy Hook mother – or a Columbine mother, or an Aurora mother, or a mother from massacres yet to come – will say, like the mother of Emmett Till, “I just want the world to see.” And then nothing about guns in this country will ever be the same again.
Pack your bags, NRA – you’re about to be shown the door. Because we refuse to let another child die in this manner. Got it? I hope so.
All you can do now is hope no one releases those photos.
Thanks to everyone for bearing with me as I spend so much time on what happened to Emad Burnat. It’s important to me because he’s my friend, and he’s being bullied. In the U.S., being Palestinian = Easy Target. It’s not right.
If you haven’t been following this since the beginning, you can read my first post here about how Emad was detained at LAX with his wife and son while on his way to the Oscars. Then there’s Buzzfeed’s first story, my response, and Buzzfeed’s follow up.
What’s truly important here is Emad and Guy Davidi’s beautiful film, '5 Broken Cameras.' If you haven’t watched it yet (you can stream it on Netflix or Hulu Plus) please do before reading any of this.
I like Buzzfeed, and I understand the pressure that online reporters are under. But I think everyone agrees that, despite all the awesome kitten gifs, they’re still obligated to be skeptical of government officials and ask the right questions.
So I hope Buzzfeed’s readers (and reporters and editors) will take these points seriously:
1. Why on earth would Emad stage a “publicity stunt” last Tuesday? Emad was already nominated for an Oscar. The theatrical release of ‘5 Broken Cameras’ was over. The voting for Best Documentary had closed. Just to sell more DVDs? I wish the world were different, but let’s face it, Palestinian documentaries don’t post amazing DVD sales even with the best publicity stunts on earth.
So the claims of Buzzfeed’s single anonymous government official made no sense from the start. On the other hand, the TSA is notorious for detaining Arabs and Arab Americans. And Indians with Muslim names. And American students carrying English-Arabic flashcards. And filmmakers from the Middle East.
On Tuesday, February 19th, Emad Burnat, the Palestianian co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘5 Broken Cameras,’ was detained with his wife and son at Los Angeles International Airport after arriving for the Academy Awards. Michael Moore wrote about his efforts to help Burnat and his family gain admittance to the U.S.here, and Burnat gave his perspective here.
On Monday, February 25th, the day after the Oscars, Buzzfeed published a story based on one anonymous source “working at LAX familiar with the situation” claiming that Burnat was never detained, and was allowed to proceed as soon as he “found the ticket” to the Oscars. Burnat responded here, and Michael Moore responded on Twitter:
Last night was the Motion Picture Academy-sponsored dinner in Beverly Hills honoring the directors and producers of this year’s five nominated films for Best Documentary. The dinner was an occasional tradition my wife and I started six years ago when we took our fellow nominees (we were nominated for ‘Sicko’) out for a meal to get to know each other. The Academy liked the idea, so this year it is holding dinners during Oscar Week for each of the separate branches’ Oscar nominees.
Thus, last night, as an elected Governor of the Documentary Branch, I and my fellow Governors – Michael Apted and Rob Epstein – were co-hosting the nominee dinner for the documentary filmmakers. But one of the nominated directors was not there – Emad Burnat, the co-director of the Oscar-nominated ‘5 Broken Cameras.’ This exceptional, award-winning movie about how Emad’s village in the West Bank used non-violence to oppose the Israeli’s government’s decision to build a wall straight through their farms and village – only to see (and capture on camera) Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinian civilians – had become the first Palestinian documentary ever to be nominated by the Academy.
While we awaited Emad’s arrival from the airport – he and his family had already spent nearly six hours at an Israeli checkpoint as he was attempting to drive to Amman to catch their plane – I received an urgent text from Emad, written to me from a holding pen at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Here is what it said, in somewhat broken English:
"Urgent - I am in the air port la they need more information why I come here
Invitation or some thing
Can you help they will send us back
If you late
I quickly texted him back and told him that help was on the way. He wrote back to say Immigration and Customs was holding him, his wife, Soraya, and their 8-year old son (and “star” of the movie) Gibreel in a detention room at LAX. He said they would not believe him when he told them he was an Oscar-nominated director on his way to this Sunday’s Oscars and to the events in LA leading up to the ceremony. He is also a Palestinian. And an olive farmer. Apparently that was too much for Homeland Security to wrap its head around.
"They are saying they are going to put us on the next plane back to Amman," he told me.
I immediately contacted the Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and COO Ric Robertson, who in turn told Academy President Hawk Koch. They got ahold of the Academy’s attorney who is also partners with a top immigration attorney and they went to work on it. I called the State Department in DC.
I told Emad to give the Homeland Security people my name and cell number and to have them call me ASAP so I could explain who he was and why they should let him go.
After being held for somewhere between one and two hours, with repeated suggestions that the U.S. may not let him into the country – saying that they may send him back home – the authorities relented and released Emad and his family.
I texted him to say we would not start the dinner until he arrived. When he got there, he was fairly shaken and upset.
He told us that this sort of treatment is something he is used to “on a daily basis under Occupation.” He gave an eloquent and moving impromptu speech, in his usual soft-spoken voice, to his fellow nominees. He said this was his 6th trip with his film to the U.S. this year and that this was the first time he was detained. He said they wanted to see some “official document” that he was an actual nominee. I said, “Doesn’t Immigration have Google?”
The Americans in the dining room apologized to Emad for the way our government and its security police treated him. We then sat down and ate some good ol’ American roast beef.
(Tonight at 7:30 pm in the Academy’s theater on Wilshire Boulevard, I will host a discussion on stage with all the documentary nominees and show clips of their films. Emad Burnat will be there. The event is open to the public.)