This review was originally published on January 21, 2012…
Emad Burnat is a peasant farmer in the small Palestinian village of Bil’in. He has a lovely wife, four sons and olive trees he looks to for food and financial support. However Burnat also has a rather large issue facing him and his fellow villagers; Israeli companies are illegally encroaching on their land to build settlements which are being built right on top of the olive orchards.
Yes, as anyone paying any sort of attention for the past bazillion years knows, things are all kinds of FUBAR in the Middle East and “5 Broken Cameras” is an interesting look at daily life for one Palestinian village that is being pushed around by a much bigger foe. While I enjoyed the peek into these peoples daily existence, the film becomes rather redundant and somehow very predictable by the end.
This is an important documentary in that it’s an on-the-ground look at what is happening to some small villages but the storyline is as straight and unchanging as the situation in the Middle East. But, perhaps that’s the point.
Burnat is the type of guy who films everything that happens in his life. He got into video recording when his youngest son Gibreel was born but he uses the camera to film daily life that typically includes either attacks from the Israeli army or, peaceful demonstrations against the illegal taking of Bil’in land. The film sort-of uses Gibreel’s formative years to steer the story and as he grows older, Gibreel develops a thick skin and an almost carefree attitude to the noise of guns and tear gas all around him. Burnat also trains his camera on the leaders of the village’s peaceful revolution, which falls upon the outspoken, melodramatic Adeeb and the gregarious, effervescent Phil. Even as Israeli forces nonchalantly toss canisters of tear gas at them (and their children) the villager’s of Bil’in refuse to do anything except peacefully protest and Adeeb and Phil lead the way. At first this is inspiring but then it almost becomes maddening as Israeli forces push harder and the injuries, arrests and deaths pile up.
The title of the film, “5 Broken Cameras” alludes to the amount of cameras Emad has gone through as he films the bullying Israeli forces. Sometimes bullets destroy the cameras and other times it’s the fists of those who don’t want a camera in their face. Burnat is clever in the way he films the atrocities as the camera literally captures this horrendous behavior on tape and those being filmed seem to get that and they either back off or grow angry. Burnat claims that looking through the camera somehow shields him yet it’s also an effective tool of peaceful protest.
As I said, the film started off strong and I was both enthralled and disturbed by the simple life of these people and the brutal violence bestowed upon them. Yet slowly, the film became a sort of literal analogy for the issues plaguing the entire Middle East. In short, it’s complicated and confusing and will either stay the same or get worse as time goes on.
Look, I’m as sick as anyone of documentaries that seek to shed light on SERIOUS ISSUES that people can view, feel bad about and then continue doing nothing to fix as if merely seeing a film like that somehow corrects the wrong. But “5 Broken Cameras” just feels like an endless stream of attacks met with peaceful protest and I grew weary of what was happening. Don’t get me wrong, I completely admire and respect people willing to peacefully protest for what they believe in and the villagers of Bil’in are incredibly stubborn in their resolve. But the film never really goes anywhere which I guess is like I said, analogous to the whole situation. But by the end, I was left feeling ambivalent about if change will never happen rather than hopeful for the future and a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.