Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Broken Cameras, Unbroken Dreams
By Lisa Mullenneaux
For Hudson-Catskill Newspaper

The documentary film “5 Broken Cameras” (2011), playing at Time & Space Limited July 5-8 and 12-14 tells the story of life under Israeli occupation through the lens of Emad Burnat, an olive grower who lives with his wife Soraya and their four children in Bil’in. When his son Gibreel is born in 2005, Burnat begins to record his growing family and “buildings that pop out of the land.” But whose land? Burnat’s neighbors discover that half of their farm land is threatened by a planned separation barrier and the settlements mushrooming behind it. They organize weekly protests, hire an Israeli attorney, and petition the High Court of Justice—and win. Burnat records it all—at the risk of his life. As Gibreel learns the Arabic words for “wall” and “army” and gets tear-gassed (“I hope he grows a eview tough skin”) his father tries to get as close to the action—now drawing international supporters—as he can. Villagers march unarmed but are often met with physical violence. Burnat’s five cameras are shot or smashed, olive trees are burned, houses bulldozed, he is critically injured and cannot work, his brothers are arrested, his friends are killed.

Still Burnat continues to document the village’s weekly demonstra- tions, often against his wife wishes. “Find something else to do,” she demands after soldiers start arresting villagers, including children. But as the farmer-turned-cameraman explains, “When wounds are forgotten they cannot heal. I film to heal, to survive.” His survival is precarious; his third camera takes a soldier’s bullet intended for him.

Life is bloody and unpredictable; for five years Burnat’s camera records how that instability affects the families around him. When one man takes a direct hit from a tear-gas grenade and dies, neighbors are grief-stricken, enraged. “Clinging to nonviolent ideals isn’t easy when death is all around,” Burnat admits. As a tribute, he gathers the villagers and screens his footage, increasing their solidarity and endurance.

Burnat, a Palestinian Arab, and his collaborator Guy Davidi, an Israeli Jew, say “we knew we would be criticized for working together,” but they tried to use their cultural differences creatively. The Israeli filmmaker was at first reluctant to make “just another film on [West Bank] resist- ance.” Then as he reviewed Burnat’s years of footage, Davidi saw the image of an old man climbing onto a military jeep to stop it from taking his son away. He asked Burnat who the man was. “It’s my father,” said the cameraman. That, says Davidi, is when he knew “we had the making of a new film that would tell the events the way Emad experienced them.”

“We decided the film had to be as intimate and personal as possible,” says Davidi. “That was the only way to tell the story in a new...way.” That choice, concedes Burnat, meant exposing “difficult moments in my life” but the result is a compelling portrait of one family’s steadfastness in the face of dwindling hope and resources.

“5 Broken Cameras” has so far won awards at Utah’s Sundance and Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film festivals and will be screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July. For more information, including additional playdates, see

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