Self-taught Palestinian cameraman Emad Burnat provides a grim recount, through his own eyes, of the harsh conundrum that defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to this day. Preeminent of the heightened animosity and divide amongst these two cultures, this documentary highlights the palpable bitterness these separate entities feel towards each other. Forever altering the lives of innocent civilians through violence and displacement, tiny glimmers of hope attempt to provide individuals with a surefire symbol to believe in. This documentary is very unlikely to persuade anyone with a desensitized view of the ongoing conflict to reconsider their opinions. For viewers who have maintained an interest in the human contours of this dilemma, however, the movie is necessary, if difficult, viewing.
Mr. Burnat, the father of four and an olive farmer in the quaint town of Bil’in, was given his first camera in 2005. Burnat planned to document the growth and development of his youngest son, Gibreel, through his newly acquired camera. Almost simultaneously with his son’s birth, the Israeli Army began building a barrier between Bil’in and the nearby Jewish settlement Modi’in Illit.
The residents of Bil’in, outraged by the destruction of their olive groves which had been bulldozed by the military and burned by settlers, began to demonstrate their feelings of distress through weekly protests. These protests were, at oftentimes, attended by left-wing Israelis and sympathizers from other countries. It is to be duly noted that Mr. Burnat was not the only cameraman who was present during these protests, but the footage he shot, which is accompanied by after-the-fact voice-over narration and part of a video diary of his daily life, is especially personal and demonstrative of his villagers feelings towards the predicament they were living through.
Burnat, along with Jewish Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, carefully deciphered via watching and editing hundreds of hours of images gathered over more than five years. As a result of the condensed narrative that resulted from their combined efforts of editing, the audience meets Mr. Burnat’s family and his neighbors. These individuals are sometimes captured in candid moments and sometimes, it appears, acting out such moments for the camera. Or cameras, rather, since the soldiers and settlers are not always happy to be filmed, and it is hard to protect a delicate piece of electronic equipment when rocks, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades are flying.
On multiple occasions, Mr.Burnat’s cameras have been the victims of both gas grenades and actual bullets. In one such incident where his third camera is destroyed as a result of a pistol’s bullet, Burnat praises the camera for “protecting me while I film.”
The encounters between the soldiers and the demonstrators have at many times lead to injuries and arrests of civilians: including one that resulted in the death of Phil, a best friend and large supporter of Mr. Burnat himself. Many of these incidents are captured through Burnat’s lenses in real time and the cumulative effect on the viewer is an intense, despairing sense of annoyance and distaste.
Mr. Burnat, however, is apprehensive of the power his camera has and the impact he can have on his community. He begins to screen his video tapes for the general public, in an avid effort that they will join in with his protests and spread awareness to neighboring communities of the injustice that is present. Burnat goes on to stream his works on Youtube as well with the intentions of virally spreading his media to all walks of life.
Even when Burnat’s pain and resentment towards Israel are at their peak level. He acknowledges the politics between Palestinian and Israeli and how they have crossed paths with his family life. Burnat lives through periods of anxiety and terror, however, he still is capable of remaining attuned to the fine grain of everyday experience.
In correlation to Burnat’s filming of the tensions amongst Palestine and Israel, he also films the growth of his child. Gibreel has been exposed, in raw form, to the abhorrence between these two social groups. Ironically, as Gibreel begins to grow and age, there is a positive correlation with the increased hostility these two nations feel towards one another.
Through his use of the medium of digital video. In accordance with his personal beliefs, perceptions and reflections, Mr. Burnat may fit comfortably into the ranks of documentarians who clearly and concisely depict the actions of their everyday lives. As a result, “5 Broken Cameras” undoubtedly deserves to be appreciated for Burnat’s ability to illustrate what events spiral around him, regardless of whether these actions are entirely presented. Therefore, it is almost possible to step outside the boundaries that conform this social issue, and to look at the film, above all, as simply a film.
Through personal recounts, the documentation of real people experiencing truly traumatic events, and a personal voice that guides the audience throughout the entire film, Burnat is able to draw his viewers in and observe the conflict through his own divine light. In a concrete methology, Burnat attempts to deliver a simple message to his audience about the brewing hot topic that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The political crisis that unites and separates these two distinct cultures is not necessarily bound to be resolved soon, however during the midst of this crisis, it is more than just politics that needs to be exemplified and understood.