5 Broken Cameras

Since working on The Price of Kings documentary series for my company Spirit Level Film, I have grown an increasing interest in documentary film which focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Whilst studying History & Politics at University, I stayed away from this issue completely, considering it too complicated and far too polarizing. Most people I did speak to about the conflict were usually very extreme in their opinions, making me cautious to try and insert my own views into the fiery cauldron of the debate.

Well now I can’t avoid the issue, so I’ve started to educate myself about the history and the current events that are now happening in the region. Choosing to go and see 5 Broken Cameras was a continuation of this education.

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The film, which is made by two video activists, one Palestinian (Emad Burnat) and one Israeli (Guy Davidi), has already received fantastic praise from reviewers. It looks set to make a significant impact on the festival scene in the coming year, having already bagged the Special Broadcaster IDFA Audience Award at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam in 2011, then winning the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance this year, and just recently the film won the Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award, as well the Grand Jury Prize at the second edition of London’s Open City Docs Fest. Phew!

So, is the film worth the hype? Instantaneous answer: yes.

In my opinion, 5 Broken Cameras has captured the attention of the critics for one reason: it is different from the huge number of films that have already been made about the Palestinian non-violent struggle against occupation of the West Bank. It is a breath of fresh air for an audience who is fatigued by the conflict and the way it has been presented thus far in the media.

5 Broken Cameras is different because it is a deeply personal story, it’s the story of an ordinary Palestinian man named Emad Burnat, who lives in the West Bank town of Bil’in. When Emad’s fourth son, Gibreel, is born in 2005 (just after the period of unrest during the second intifada) he buys a camera to document his son’s life. As his son grows, life in Bil’in changes. Settlements begin to encroach on the town farmland, the military begins to increase its presence and the atmosphere becomes more tense and volatile. When the Israeli authorities announces plans to build a fence right through the farmland, cutting off access to traditional lands used for olive picking, the people decide to take a stand.

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As the town of Bil’in begins a strategy of non-violent resistance against the wall, Emad begins to film what is happening around him. He documents the protests and the more events he films, the more he is compelled to continue on. In the process of filming over five years, five of Emad’s cameras are broken during protests; one camera even saved Emad’s life when an IDF soldier fired live ammunition directly at him during a non-violent protest.

The footage Emad captures is unbelievably raw, shocking and at times extremely enraging. The film brings into absolute clarity the unfairness of the occupation of the West Bank and the absolute powerlessness which Palestinians must feel, yet which many, like Emad and the residents of Bil’in, refuse to give in to.

5 Broken Cameras is a fascinating documentation of the present situation many Palestinians in the West Bank face. I suggest that whatever your politics may be, you give this film a watch. Not only is it a beautifully told personal story, interlaced with both heart-warming humour and terrible sadness, it also avoids finger pointing, blaming, or encouraging resentment or hatred. In a region where conflict has been ongoing for so many years, affecting several generations and fostering extremism and violence on both sides, this film is incredibly important.

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