Review of 5 Broken Cameras


Movie Review: "5 Broken Cameras"

-- Rating: Not rated
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: 2011
Directed by: Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Genre: Documentary

Emad Burnat paints a heart-wrenching and disturbing portrait of the violence and pain suffered by both sides of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in "5 Broken Cameras." It is a chronicle of his village's nonviolent protest against the Israeli army, as well as a settlement being built on the other side of West Bank barrier.

In the film, the West Bank barrier is in the midst of construction and will take away a significant portion of Palestinian land. We watch as trees are burned, children are arrested in late night raids, and many innocents are lost as tempers flare.

Burnat films the protest as well as his family's reactions to provide a personal perspective on an issue that has captured national headlines. The film is called "5 Broken Cameras" because he broke five cameras while filming the documentary.

He and the other villagers from Bil'in visit the wall on a regular basis for nonviolent protests. Burnat's camera captures villagers being driven away by stun grenades, assaults and even deadly force. We are spectators on the journey, and Burnat deftly catches not only the impact of the violence, but also how it affects the villagers and his family.

He occasionally turns the camera away from the barrier to focus on his children. The conflict has become such a common part of their lives that he describes the age of his children based on the politics at the time of their birth. One son was born after the Oslo Accords and another child is born at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the family's time on camera is watching Burnat's youngest son grow during the four years of filming. We watch as he starts out with a child's innocence, but we slowly come to realize the world he was born into and the dangers inherent in it.

Burnat co-directed the film with an Israeli filmmaker, Guy Davidi. The combination seems surprising given the conflict, but Davidi provides a balance to the film. We begin to understand that there are two sides to the conflict, and no one is winning. The settlers on the other side of the West Bank barrier are protected by the Israeli Defense Force and the conflicts seem never-ending.

The viewer can also tell that the conflict and filming take a heavy toll on Burnat throughout the four years. News cameras stop rolling once the particular conflict is over, but Burnat takes you into the battle and back home again.

He constantly puts himself in the line of fire for the sake of documenting the world around him, and the camera has taken a bullet meant for him on more than one occasion. It's obvious that the film is an obsession for Burnat. It's an obsession born of the need to tell the world that his existence is no way for a person to live.

The film "5 Broken Cameras" is a unique mix of the political and the personal. It makes the casualties real, not just nameless faces on a late-night news program. The conflict consumes their lives morning, noon and night, and there are only rare occasions when a child can truly be a child. There is one image of a group of children playing in the sea, and it suddenly hits home that it's one of the few times they are free and happy. When they frolic in the sea, there are no bullets whizzing by or news that a family member or friend as died in the recent protest.

Burnat's "5 Broken Cameras" is filled with disturbing images and a sense of hopelessness for a conflict with no end. Burnat is beaten and shot at throughout the film, leaving him on more than one occasion bloody and bruised, but he never once puts down the camera.

Throughout the film people live, die, laugh and cry. Through it all, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is a giant white elephant; it's always present, no matter how hard the participants try to forget.

The film is an intimate portrait of one man's struggle just to survive. It doesn't matter which side of the conflict you support (if either); the film will move you regardless. It's filled with powerful imagery, and Burnat's voiceover work helps put a personal face to events that have become part of everyday living along the West Bank.

Stars: 3 out of 5 stars.