HRAFF Film Review – Five Broken Cameras

By Candice Parr

Emad Burnat never wanted to be a filmmaker. He was a “falah”, a peasant, living off the land like most of the people in his village of Bil’in, in the West Bank. But in 2005 when his son Gibreel is born, Emad gets a camera to record the joyous time in his family’s life. And when Israeli authorities begin to build a barrier on contested land, which the villagers have always thought of as their own, Emad turns his camera to the unfolding events.

For the next five years, and with five different cameras (each one breaking in a different violent, resistance-related event), he continues to film. The resulting documentary is a glimpse of the world of these everyday Palestinian people, and their fight against the barrier – known to villagers as “the wall”.

Alongside the violence of the demonstrations, the film presents interesting juxtaposition shots of the mundane – of life going on, as it always does.

As the wall is built, and extended, the villagers demonstrate in protest. Months extend into years, and the film contains many upsetting scenes of the non-violent protest being broken up by Israeli armed forces. Gas grenades are tossed nonchalantly into crowds; unarmed civilians are manhandled and carried off, under arrest. Shots are fired, and unarmed civilian protestors are wounded, and even killed.

With these devastating images, however, comes a surprising lack of political stance. The protestors have non-violent ideals, but Emad admits the difficulty of maintaining these when pain and death are all around. Palestinian nationalism barely features, and there is no anti-Israeli sentiment as such – indeed, Israeli activists join the villagers in their resistance.

The villagers’ fight is not so much a political one as a labour of love – they love their lands, and the olive trees that give them sustenance. Their deep connection to the land, and each other, permeates the film, and is the source of its greatest profundity.

The resistance’s refusal to play the political game has serious costs for those like Emad – when he crashes a vehicle into the barrier (we are not told whether this was intentional or not) and is seriously injured, the Palestinian Authority refuses him compensation for his medical bills, stating that his injuries were not resistance-related, despite happening during a protest. Emad tells us: “If you don’t fit the resistance image, you’re on your own.”

Alongside the violence of the demonstrations, the film presents interesting juxtaposition shots of the mundane – of life going on, as it always does. For instance, we see Sonoya, Emad’s wife, hanging up washing with the sound of gunshots ringing nearby. In particular, we see Gibreel grow up; he is the same age as the resistance, and we watch as he becomes more sensitive to his world.

Five Broken Cameras … has great value in the depth it brings to an issue that many people have preconceived ideas about.

Some of Gibreel’s first words are “jidar” (the wall), “marat” (cartridge), and “jesh” (army). He lies in the grass listening to music, watches cartoons, sits on a chair staring at the rain – in these moments experiencing childhood. And then he coughs as tear gas wafts past him, and on another occasion asks his father why the army is doing what they are doing. His innocence is cut short; he sees so much pain, but cannot properly understand it.

Five Broken Cameras, in recording essential images of a struggle most of us can’t imagine, has great value in the depth it brings to an issue that many people have preconceived ideas about. It is also a cautionary tale to those who wish to dominate through violence. People will always fight for what they perceive to be right, what they believe will give their families a better life. We see this in Bil’in, through Emad’s eyes.

We see the exasperation, indignation, pain and sadness of the villagers as grim reality creeps in through violence, death, and arrest. But in the end, they are still there. Unlike the cameras that have recorded this ongoing saga, they remain unbroken in constant witness.

Five Broken Cameras is screening on Tuesday 22 May 2012 at 8:30pm, at Melbourne’s ACMI Cinemas. To purchase tickets, click here.

For more on our coverage of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, click here.

To visit the HRAFF website, click here.

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