Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 2:13 pm 
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A boy grows up with village protests

This film -- by a Palestinian videographer whose images are collected and narrated by him here -- tells much the same story as Julia Bacha's awarded 2009 documentary Budrus, only in a more personal and rather sadder way. Both films are about Palestinian villagers protesting against Israeli settlements, walls, encroachment of their land, destroying their olive groves, ruining their lives in piecemeal fashion year after year. Emad gets a video camera when Gibreel is born, his youngest of four sons. Then he gets the habit and becomes a documentary filmmaker, covering marches and protests and endless encounters with the Israeli army in which friends and brothers are arrested, wounded, and finally killed -- and the shooting is so rough, five of the cameras he's using get destroyed in the space of five years.

Budrus, which focuses on another town and its actions and activists, provides more information about the community organization that went into the protests, the negotiations, the identity of the Israeli soldiers engaged in protecting settlements or walls, the effect of the involvement of Israeli and foreign activists in the demonstrations, and the dimensions of the non-violent struggles, which over a period of several years joined together from town to town.

The unique feature of 5 Broken Cameras is that it literally depicts events that Emad Burnat himself covered with his cameras, which generally lasted less than a year before they were wrecked in a demonstration. This is a sort of DIY documentary filmmaking manual: if you've got a camera and what's happening in your world is as significant as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, and you haven't much else to do (Emad was robbed of any livlihood other than olive cultivation), you become a filmmaker. He covers the shooting, the wounding, the tear gas. He shows how spirited demonstrators Phil and Adib inspire others to maintain hope and keep returning to protest. But at the same time he is still using his cameras to record Gibreel, whom we see learn to walk, and talk and grow up. It seems his first words include "wall" and "army." Gibreel has enormous innocent dark eyes and an open spirit. He sees and experiences everything. He grows up in a world of encroachment and protest. It's all he knows..

Emad's narration is simple and direct. He doesn't provide an elaborate historical picture or fill us in on the politics of protest as Budrus does. But on the other hand he gives us a more direct sense of what it's like to be an average guy in a Palestinian village on the edge of the Israeli settlements, المستوطنات الإسرائيلية (a personal note: I followed the narration closely; it was unusually easy for a student of Arabic to follow, showing how simple, direct, and forthright it is). This film conveys a sense of Palestinian robustness. Their situation is demoralizing beyond words but in the eye of Emad's cameras they remain hardy and vigorous -- and they keep on coming. Emad speaks of anger, of how it deepens as the sorrow sinks in for example when one of the village's inspirations is killed, the man whom the children loved to gather around. But his spirit is determinedly non-violent -- and as Budrus shows, that's an approach that works.

Guy Davidi is an Israeli filmmaker who collaborated with Burnat in producing this film. They were much helped by the editor Memmo Borema, and the film is gently enhanced by the music of Trio Joubran, an oud group. French television gave its support, and the finishing touches on the final edit were done by Véronique Lagoarde-Segot. Thanks to this expert help Burnat's "amateur" camerawork becomes brilliantly effective. The simple narrative preserves the filmmakers' aim of avoiding "traps" and clichés. Needless to say, the chronology of the five cameras, plus the first five years of young Gibreel's life, with "Happy Birthday" and ritual cake-blowing included, provide not only a neat structure, but a sense both of how personal and of how dangerous the circumstances of this film's progress were.

5 Broken Cameras debuted at Sundance. It won the World Cinema Documentary Directing award there and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It has recently been part of festivals in Mexico, Sweden, and Greece. It is also included in the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, New Directors/New Films, in which it was screened for this review. Public showings at ND/NF will be:

Monday, March 26th | 6:00 PM | FSLC
Tuesday, March 27th | 8:30 PM | MoMA

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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