Self-taught cameraman Emad Burnat joins forces with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi to produce a stirring documentary based on the struggles of a small Palestinian village, Bil’in, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Spurred into action following increasing encroachments on his small farming town, Burnat turns his camera on the turmoil of his family and the town. He does this to bear witness to the actions of the Israeli army and settlers.
Over a period of five years, five cameras are broken by the Israeli army, either through gas grenades, live ammunition shots, car crashes or physical force. Vindicating his right to peacefully live in the legally Palestinian town is too precious to Burnat for him to give up, and so each broken camera is considered only one ended chapter and the signal for a new start for Burnat. The force behind his message is elicited through its personalised viewpoint. The humble narrator forces the viewer to consider the events from a human and not merely political standpoint as he colours our vision with the associations and comparisons he holds with each of the events. Mainly, he describes the milestones of his sons and how they run parallel to the terrible occurrences around them. For each of the five years he protests, we see his youngest son, Gibreel, grow from a small infant to an observant young boy who will inevitably be drawn into the vortex of conflict himself one day.
There is little involvement from the oppositional side, but it is hard to fault the film greatly for this as this lack of positive interaction. It ultimately intimates the wall of silence that the ordinary Palestinians face does not end when a camera is turned on. Many viewers will find this both frustrating and one-sided, but again, whether it was through choice or lack of permission, it reflects the protesters unanswered questions back onto us once more. There is no sense that the film-makers believe all Israelis to be in the wrong, as firstly the co-director is Israeli, and secondly, numerous Israeli protestors are shown marching alongside the townspeople. Burnat recognises the complicated history of both people, and does not attempt to obscure the Israeli troubles but simply wishes to convey the wrongs done to his community; a reasonable objective by any standard.
5 Broken Cameras captures the primacy of land and nature to the Palestinian people with aplomb. Technically, no new information is brought to the forefront in the documentary, but the personal cry for help and the sincere chronicle of the village is something every viewer will grapple with long after they leave the cinema. For an amateur, the camera work displays considerable attention to detail and is simultaneously selective in its editing, with as many images as possible having a strong and emotional purpose. The beauty of the landscape, and the tragedy of its ruination as olive trees are set alight by settlers, ensures the film is awash with aesthetic boldness throughout. In a world where a child’s first words are ‘army’ and ‘cartridge’ there is unlikely to be an easy answer, but if the question can be limited, here, to ‘is the film worth watching’, the answer is a definite yes. 5 Broken Cameras is currently showing at the IFI.