Starring: Emad Burnat, Soyraya Burnat, Mohammed Burnat
You may like this if you liked: In This World (Michael Winterbottom, 2002), Frontier Blues (Babak Jalali, 2009), Times and Winds (Reha Erdem, 2006)
5 Broken Cameras begins with Israeli authorities erecting a fence within Palestinian territory near village of Bil’in. Filming this is villager Emad Burnat on the home camera he has just given to film the birth of his youngest son. The film then chronicles over the next five years how Jewish settlers continue to build on what is the villager’s farmland. The villagers continue to peacefully protest against this despite the violent treatment from Israeli soldiers. Despite all the threats, constant injuries, and every camera he uses being broken; Emad vows to continue filming the developments that unfolded. This film is made up solely of real footage shot at the time.
I have read some reviews that seem to regard this film as one sided anti Israeli propaganda. I understand this may appear one sided for blatantly obvious reasons as the footage is solely filmed by a Palestinian villager on his own cameras. I also know documentaries are always edited, but I never thought the sole message of this film is ‘Israel is evil’. This is especially the case as the co-director and editor, Guy Davidi is a Jewish Israeli. The main theme of this story is an account of the simple life these humble villagers lead and the simple pleasures they get out of life as they seek to peacefully get back what they believe to be rightfully theirs. It is the authenticity and sheer honesty that makes 5 Broken Cameras such an engrossing and genuinely involving experience that really puts things into perspective for the viewer. The film is told frequently in voice-over, and at no point does Emad have a bad thing to say about the Israeli soldiers or their superiors. He and the rest of the villagers are simply trying to comprehend what is happening around them and protect their heritage and indeed traditional way of life.
The raw, and sometimes harrowing footage shocks but never feels contrived or for the sake of propaganda. As Emad frequently reminds us, his passion is to film what is happening, even though it nearly costs him his life. Even at one point his camera takes a bullet that would have otherwise most likely killed him, emphasising the raw authenticity of this film. He has no political agenda, just wants to show us the truth of the turn of events through his eyes and his children. The developments of the five years also mirror the growing up of Emad’s youngest son Gibreel who was born when the protests started. Many moments are almost filmed as if they were through his eyes adding to narrative involvement. Even his first words are “cartridge” and “army”, and at one point he simply asks his dad “why don’t you just stab the soldiers with a knife?” This is a very sobering reminder that for many children in the world today conflict and death are a part of growing up. Other villagers are also key characters in the narrative, they are just honestly shown as whom they are, and this authenticity provides a far more involving experience than any fictional film can produce.
Despite the bleak and harrowing moments, there are many moments of optimism. Some of the developments may not seem big to us, but to our protagonists they represent hope and freedom. The moments between Emad and his family, and the moments when we get to know his extended family and villagers provide moments of genuine closeness and remind us of the sometimes shallow and consumerist lives we live in the west.
5 Broken Cameras is a deeply powerful and involving documentary made with honesty, passion and integrity. A raw depiction of a life many of us can only imagine that puts things into perspective.