5 Broken Cameras

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5 Broken Cameras

by Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi
Guy DVD Films, Burnat Films Palestine, Alegría Productions
| 2011 | color / black and white | video | 90’ & 52’ |

Palestinian farm laborer Emad has five video cameras, and each of them tells a different part of the story of his village's resistance to Israeli oppression. Emad lives in Bil'in, just west of the city of Ramallah in the West Bank. Using the first camera, he recorded how the bulldozers came to rip the olive trees out of the ground in 2005. Here, a wall was built directly through his fellow villagers' land to separate the advancing Jewish settlements from the Palestinians.

In the first days of resistance to the Jewish colonists and the ever-present Israeli soldiers, Emad's son Gibreel was born. Scenes shift from the infant growing into a precocious preschooler to the many peaceful acts of protest, and the steady progress of the construction of the dividing wall. Sympathizers from all over the world, including from Israel, provide help as resistance develops, but when the situation intensifies, people are arrested and villagers are killed.

Emad keeps on filming despite pleas from his wife, who fears reprisals. It makes for an intensely powerful personal document about one village's struggle against violence and oppression.

DocHouse Q&A
5 BROKEN CAMERAS with directors Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

Reviews :

- The Washington Post
- Village Voice
- Variety
- Daily Beast
- Film Society of Lincoln Center Blog
- Jewish Week
- Time Out NY
- Film Forward
- Partners 4 Israel
- Spirituality and Practice
- Slant
- Rue 89

The New York Times
by Ethan Bronner, January 22. 2012

BILIN, West Bank — Emad Burnat was born to the land and, like generations of his family in this hilltop West Bank village, he has eked out a modest living from its rocky soil. But six years ago, at the birth of a son, he was given a video camera and turned unexpectedly into the village chronicler.
Bilin has become the center of popular resistance. There was a great deal to record. Israel was building a separation barrier on village land that included some of his family’s own. The rationale behind it was to stop suicide bombers, but the move confiscated most of the village’s arable land and allowed for the expansion of an enormous Israeli settlement.
Bulldozers uprooted centuries-old olive trees while settlers drove up with furniture and mobile homes. Villagers stood in the way; soldiers arrested them. Mr. Burnat was there, day in, day out, filming with his new camera.
Now, working with an Israeli filmmaker, Guy Davidi, Mr. Burnat has taken his years of video and turned them into a compelling personal tale. The film, “Five Broken Cameras,” won two awards in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, including the Audience Award, and is one of about a dozen films competing at Sundance this week in the World Documentary category.
As Bilin became the center for Palestinian popular resistance — weekly demonstrations joined by Israeli and foreign activists, and a partial Supreme Court victory forcing the barrier to be moved and some land returned — Mr. Burnat’s images became crucial. They were used not only by journalists but by those fighting charges in Israeli military courts. Accusations of assault were sometimes countered with a common refrain: let’s go to Emad’s videotape.
The new documentary intersperses scenes of villagers fighting the barrier with Mr. Burnat’s son Gibreel’s first words (“cartridge,” “army”), undercover Israeli agents taking away friends and relatives, and Mr. Burnat’s wife, Soraya, begging him to turn his attention away from politics and be with his family. Over six years, Mr. Burnat went through five cameras, each broken in the course of filming — among other things, by soldiers’ bullets and an angry settler. At the start of the film, Mr. Burnat lines up the cameras on a table. They form the movie’s chapters and create a motif for the unfolding drama — the power of bearing witness. Mr. Burnat never puts his camera down and it drives his opponents mad.
“Tell him if he keeps filming I will break his bones!” a settler declares to a soldier. Mr. Burnat keeps filming. The settler approaches him and, as the camera rolls, throws it to the ground, breaking it. The screen goes blank.
“When I film, I feel like the camera protects me,” Mr. Burnat says in his soft-voiced narration of the movie, making a point familiar to all journalists. “But it is an illusion.”
In one scene, soldiers come to Mr. Burnat’s house (“Now it’s my turn,” he says into the camera) to arrest him on charges of throwing stones and assaulting a soldier — charges he denied and of which he was later exonerated, according to an army spokesman. He films the soldiers’ entry into his house and their surreal assertion that he must turn off his camera because he is in a “closed military area.” “I am in my own home,” he replies. He spends three weeks in prison and six weeks under house arrest. It takes three years for the case to be dismissed.
A subtheme of the film is the activism of Mr. Burnat’s two close friends, Adeeb and Bassem Abu Rahma, who were cousins. Bassem was nicknamed “Phil,” the Arabic word for elephant. Both were playful, big-hearted guys at the front of the demonstrations. Phil was killed at a demonstration in 2009, and Mr. Burnat originally thought of making the movie about him.
But Mr. Davidi and an Israeli organization called Greenhouse, which pairs regional filmmakers with European mentors and is financed by the European Union, persuaded Mr. Burnat to place himself at the center of his story. It was a crucial move that gave the film its power and intimacy. But it did not come naturally.
“It was a very difficult decision to make such a personal film,” Mr. Burnat, 40, said as he sat in the garden of his home. Gibreel, now 6, and his older sons were wandering in and out, and the high-rises of the Modiin Illit settlement could be seen in the distance. “I was uncomfortable about showing footage of my wife. This may be normal in Europe, but here in Palestine you have to answer many questions. I have so far avoided showing the film here.”
Mr. Davidi, the 33-year-old Israeli co-director, first came to Bilin in 2005 to shoot a documentary on Palestinian workers who take construction jobs in the settlement, and he met Mr. Burnat then. “We wanted our film to be an understatement, not to be provocative or combative,” Mr. Davidi said.
The movie’s personal style is not the only issue bringing Mr. Burnat heat. Working with an Israeli filmmaker and taking help from Greenhouse have been controversial. The Palestinian movement increasingly promotes a boycott of all things Israeli on the theory that contact serves to “normalize” relations that should be frozen until progress is made on ending the occupation.
“When we showed the film in Amsterdam, Palestinians and other Arabs came up to me and asked how I could work with Israelis,” Mr. Burnat said. “But from the start, the struggle for Bilin involved Israeli activists.”
Greenhouse, which has sponsored 15 films and has brought together 100 moviemakers from Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian territories, knows that many in the Middle East object to what it does.
Sigal Yehuda, Greenhouse’s managing director, says the issue is discussed openly at the seminars the group sponsors around the region.
“Coexistence is one of the most important fruits of this activity,” she said. “These are intelligent and influential people who have lived with, eaten with and even danced with Israelis.”
For Mr. Burnat, the coexistence question is especially delicate. In late 2008, he accidently drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.
“If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,” Mr. Burnat said, “I probably wouldn’t have survived.” He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming, little Gibreel trailing behind.
“The only protection I can offer him,” Mr. Burnat says of Gibreel at that point in the film, speaking for chroniclers everywhere, “is allowing him to see everything with his own eyes so he can confront just how vulnerable life is.”
Weeks later, an Israeli tear gas canister hit his friend Phil in the chest and killed him.

The Hollywood Reporter

The bottom line:
Emand Burnat and Guy Davidi tell the story of Israeli-Palestinian conflict through raw video footage. An engrossing, out-of-the-ordinary film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose violence is written on the cameraman’s own body.

However familiar the conflict between West Bank Palestinians and the Israeli army has become in documentary films, 5 Broken Cameras has an immediacy and a tenacious narrative thread that re-ignite interest. Over the last five years, self-taught cameraman Emad Burnat, who lives in the village of Bil’in, and experienced Israeli filmmaker and editor Guy Davidi teamed up to tell the story of Bil’in’s resistance to the encroaching Israeli settlements. Shot through the lens of five video cameras which are progressively destroyed in the course of the film, along with Burnat’s heavily injured body, this well-made doc draws the viewer deep inside a Palestinian family in a highly personal tale that should make the transition from festivals to TV.

It won the Special Jury and Audience Award at Amsterdam’s IDFA documentary festival. Burnat bought his first camera in 2005 to film the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, who becomes a reference point for everything that happens. He’s just in time to document Israeli bulldozers uprooting the village’s ancient olive trees, a principle source of livelihood and a symbol of their connection to the land. Next, a wall is constructed through village fields to separate the burgeoning Israeli settlements from the Palestinians.

Bil’in becomes famous for its peaceful protest demonstrations every Friday, which Burnat attends along with his friends Adeeb, given to theatrical gestures like tree-hugging, and Phil, a lovable giant nicknamed The Elephant. This small cast of characters carries the story forward as the political climate darkens. There are arrests, and later shootings. Soldiers fire into Burnat’s cameras. Exploding grenades destroy others.

Burnat himself is rarely seen in the film until a severe car accident almost kills him. Yet his presence and quiet voice-over describing the evolving situation create a strong bond with the viewer, who comes to feel like part of the family. Particularly touching is his fatherly urge to protect his small son and make him tough, by letting him see terrible events through his own eyes.

While a melancholy score underlines the tragedy of the situation, the filmmakers vary the tone and there are even a few light-hearted moments. The editing by Davidi and Veronique Lagoarde-Segot give Burnat’s raw video footage a convincing structure that allows the audience to connect to events.
- by Deborah Young

Artinfo Movie Journal

Gripping from the get go is the quasi home movie “5 Broken Cameras,” playing Tuesday night at MoMA en route from Sundance hosannas to a Film Forum opening in late May. Palestinian photographer Emad Bernat ran through five digital recorders, four of them smashed by the Israeli army, in the course of documenting the five-year-long struggle between the essentially non-violent residents of his West Bank town and the Israeli settlers whose “protective barrier” steadily encroached on their ancestral land. The movie is both an infuriating j’accuse and an remarkable demonstration of human solidarity, in part because it was assembled from hours of footage by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, as well as a powerful act of witnessing. To see it is to wonder what it would have been like to have a black Alabaman’s 8mm documentation of the civil rights struggle.

Le Monde

Les parias, nouveaux héros de cinéma

Ce sont des héros obscurs. Des naufragés solitaires, dépenaillés, hirsutes, hâves, qu'on croirait revenus à l'état primitif. A la périphérie des villes ou au tréfonds des forêts, ils vivent aux franges de la société, inventeurs d'expédients, collecteurs de rebuts, ignorés des hommes autant qu'ils semblent les ignorer. La précarité, davantage qu'un choix délibéré, a confiné ces marginaux dans des réduits insoupçonnés, où ils purgent leur peine d'esseulement et d'invisibilité.

Le cinéma, pourtant, les y rencontre. Cela donne des films à la beauté étrange, où se joue en dernier ressort, sur les ruines du cinéma militant et de la lutte des classes, la question de la dignité humaine. Par le simple fait de les recadrer, le cinéma tire de ces parias quelque chose comme une nouvelle figure héroïque. Irréductible à force de dénuement, hautaine à force d'indifférence, magnifique à force de stoïcisme.