5 Broken Cameras: Film Review

An engrossing, out-of-the-ordinary film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose violence is written on the cameraman’s own body

Emand Burnat and Guy Davidi tell the story of Israeli-Palestinian conflict through raw video footage.

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.

Venue: IDFA Film Festival (competing), Nov. 22, 2011.
Production companies: Guy DVD Films, Alegria Productions, Burnat Films Palestine
Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
Screenwriters: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
Producers: Guy Davidi, Serge Sordey, Emad Burnat
Director of photography: Emad Burnat
Music: Samir Joubran, Wissam Joubran, Adnan Joubran
Editors: Veronique Lagoarde-Segot, Guy Davidi
Sales Agent:  Guy DVD Films
90 minutes.