5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

Adeeb (centre) and other demonstrators
Winner of the People's Choice Award at the RIDM, 5 Broken Cameras is an intimate look at the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as seen through the lens of Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer and amateur videographer living in Bil'in, West Bank. In his attempt to create a visual record of the border conflict that unfolds over six years, he has a series of five cameras destroyed. This is just one narrative thread that runs through this autobiograpical film, brilliantly edited by Israeli video activist Guy Davidi.

In 2005, Burnat purchases his first camera to film the birth of his fourth son Gibreel. This event  coincides with the arrival of Israeli surveyors who are laying the groundwork for a barrier through the village's olive groves. The barrier, a combination of barbed wire fence, a concrete wall and watchtowers, is ostensibly to protect the expanding Israeli settlements from snipers and suicide bombers. But the barrier also appropriates the Palestinian olive groves, the villagers' means of subsistence. Local Palestinians begin peaceful weekly protests, often resulting in violent clashes with Israeli soldiers. As can be expected, the conflict intensifies, the army closes in and the resistance movement swells to include Israeli and foreign sympathizers, all of which Burnat doggedly captures on film.

But 5 Broken Cameras also chronicles many personal events that run parallel to the struggle, taking the edge off the escalating violence and giving this conflict a much-needed human element. Burnat's friends, Adeeb and Basseem, the de facto resistance leaders, are key figures in the story. In addition to risking bullets in their verbal confrontations with Israeli soldiers, Adeeb is shot in the leg, while Basseem, the gentle giant, eventually meets his fate with a gas grenade. Burnat also films multiple arrests. The most poignant was his brother being apprehended by police, while both his mother and father tried in vain to stop the police vehicle.

Another narrative thread involves Burnat's son Gibreel. He grows from a joyful toddler whose first words are "cartridge" and "army," to a child with hardened eyes learning about heroes. Burnat, himself, also undergoes a few changes in the course of the film. His hair greys, he gains weight, and at the end of the film, he is involved in a near tragic accident that is unrelated to the conflict. Ironically, his life is saved at an Israeli hospital, and the Palestinian Authority refuses to pay him any compensation.

There are a few scenes, however, that appear staged for the sake of creating a stronger family narrative. The first scene that comes to mind is Burnat's wife putting Gibreel to bed and singing him a lullaby, and the second involves Burnat's wife telling him that his filming is jeopardizing their lives. These scenes may well have happened, but they appear to have been filmed after the fact. In addition, not all the footage used was Burnat's, as it was explicitly stated in the credits. Footage was also taken from Davidi's work and that of another unnamed cameraman.

In spite of this, Davidi's editing is first-rate. In an interview with Box Office, we learn that he had to go through over 1,000 hours of footage, and then do the final edit with Véronique Lagoarde to create this 90-minute film. The challenge, he says, was "to create a balance between the violence and the nice moments, the delicate moments." And I must add that without these delicate moments, 5 Broken Cameras would have come across as just more horrifying coverage of the conflict in the Middle East, and I would have left after 10 minutes.

In the end, 5 Broken Cameras is a gripping tale that gives us a much more nuanced story of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unsurprisingly, the film has won awards at both Sundance and the IDFA, the world's largest documentary film festival.

This review has been cross-posted at Rover Arts

Other reviews
Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang
Review of the Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder
The Day of the Crows directed by Jean-Christophe Dessaint
M60: Faux Pas



Anonymous | December 10, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Great review Heather! Sounds like a fascinating film.

Unknown | December 5, 2015 at 1:43 PM

Nice post

Post a Comment