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Review: ‘5 Broken Cameras’ only part of the price for Palestinian village

February 10th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

By Max Parker Dahl

PARK CITY—The winner of the World Cinema Directing Award for documentaries, 5 Broken Cameras is an emotional journey chronicling the peaceful protest efforts made by the Palestinian West Bank village of Bil’in.

The people of Bil’in and neighboring communities hold protests weekly against the squatting Israelis’ encroachment on village land, breaking ground and building new apartment complexes—official outlawed by Israeli law but supported by its military. Peaceful assemblies and protests are met by violence, intensifying to fatal levels after years of assembling at the Israeli wall built on Palestinian land.

Farmer-turned-filmmaker Emad Burnat buys his first camera to document the life of his fourth son, Gibreel, and stumbles upon activism as community friends begin to lead protests to hold onto their land. He captures footage as four of his brothers are arrested, one with a bullet in his leg, as friends are hit by riot ammunition and tear gas, as another friend dies, and as his children get involved in the village protest. Despite having his cameras repeatedly broken by soldiers, Burnat finds himself engulfed in haunting scenes. He must keep filming, year after year. Camera after camera.

The most powerful scenes are when his four sons, including Gibreel, 3, attend the protests with their father. They see family and friends arrested and bullets fired. They choke in clouds of tear gas. And yet, Gibreel hands Isreali soldiers olive branches from the community’s grove.

You see the boys become men very quickly, and I finally understood the undying motivation of Palestinians to fight for their land. Peaceful and creative measures do not staunch the flow of Israeli buildings appearing. Nothing works, for years.

Each of Burnat’s cameras’ “deaths” is memorialized with a eulogy. Experiencing the bumps in the road, or getting hit by a gas grenade and a bullet, the camera perspective catches the atrocities the Israeli army afflicts in Bil’in. Children are arrested and taken in the night, century-old olive trees are burned, concrete homes and a wall appear to demoralize the village.

The political process is slow and frustrating, even as support flows in to resist the hostile situation. Nothing changes for years, until the wall is finally brought down. Five years later. When it is dismantled, it doesn’t feel like a victory.

The collaboration of Burnat, a Palestinian villager, and Israeli Guy Davidi presents a revealing political documentary combined with a coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence narrative.

When Burnat himself took the stage at the film’s Sundance screening, the crowd rose immediately, applauding long enough to show their profound respect. Documentary filmmakers and Sundance Academy experts praised the Burnet’s storytelling and intelligence of 5 Broken Camera’s editing. It was engaging throughout: loud and harsh and dizzying, funny and intimate and touching, then ultimately profoundly infuriating.



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