The award winning ‘5 Broken Cameras’ is the poignant tale of a small Palestinian village’s struggle for freedom when encroaching Israeli settlements threaten to engulf their land. Seen through the eyes of the local farmer and director Emad Burnat, ‘5 broken cameras’ gives an intimate and unique insight into the villagers’ ongoing perseverance in their struggle for liberty against all odds.
The village of Bil’in is situated near the edge of the West Bank, precariously close to the Israeli border and their approaching settlements. One day the villagers wake to find Jewish construction workers placing a large fence right through the middle of their farmland; their means of living, the ancient olive groves, dug up and destroyed. The fence is heavily armed and protected by Israeli soldiers.
Over five years the film follows the villagers who relentlessly carry out weekly peaceful protests, demanding the return of their land. Their protests are met with violence, intolerance and inhumanity as Israeli soldiers forcibly remove them, by teargas and gunfire. Villagers are arrested and killed though this does not thwart their determination.
The film is shot over five years on the director’s five cameras, each camera forming a chapter of the tale. The cameras not only witness the violence that the villagers are met with, but are subjected to it as well and in a way come to symbolize the struggle as they are riddled with bullets, hit by teargas grenades and smashed by soldiers. But like the undefeatable will of the villagers, when one camera is broken, another takes its place in the ongoing resistance.
An upbringing surrounded by violence
The story of this struggle is paralleled with the growing up of Emad’s youngest son Gibreel. Emad bought his first camera to film his newly born fourth son, but found that the violence surrounding his village was inevitably interwoven with his son’s life. During the film we see Gibreel celebrate his first five birthdays, normal childhood images of birthday parties conflicting with the raw and violent images of oppression. This juxtaposition is extremely powerful and heart wrenching as we witness firsthand the loss of his childhood innocence.
Throughout the film we get to know Emad’s family and the villagers personally. Emad, though mostly filming, is very much the central character of the film. It is as if we are seeing his world through his eyes and his narration through voice-over gives us insight into his inner thoughts. This makes the film unique in its intimacy and thereby very powerful. In one scene we see how Emad’s wife begs him to stop filming as it is putting him in extreme danger. Emad however does not – and cannot – stop filming, as he states in the voice-over: “these events need to be remembered as only through remembering can healing take place”. This leaves the viewer with the haunting question; in the face of such adversary is the healing he speaks of ever really going to be possible?
Uniquely personal and beautiful, ‘5 broken cameras’, shines a light on the ongoing bigger Israeli/ Palestinian problem. This film is inspiring in the way it demonstrates the determination and the undefeatable spirit of the villagers, yet excruciatingly frustrating in the way in which we see them constantly put down by unjust violence. Though a solution to this problem seems far away, eye-opening documentaries such as this one can hopefully play an important role.