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five broken cameras

Five Broken Cameras | OSCARS

Palestinian documentary highlights all-too familiar theme

All told, no other conflict has been committed to film more than the Israelo-Palestinian one. This glut of images characterizes “5 broken cameras,” a documentaries-within-the-documentary produced over a period of five years by a Palestinian amateur which may yet earn the best nod a filmmaker could hope for this weekend at the Academy Awards.

The son of a peasant–a gardener and farmer–Emad Burnat lives in the village of Bil’in in the West Bank. Just as his fourth child is born an announcement is made that the village’s land will be appropriated to allow Israelis to build a “separation wall” to protect the large Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, still under construction.

In a turn of events reminiscent of those portrayed in the feature film “Lemon Tree” (listen to our podcast which features music from this film) the villagers’ land is taken over by Israelis under military decree (olive trees had been planted there, and provided the village’s main source of subsistence). The newly-appropriated land, declared “military zone,” soon becomes a symbol of peaceful resistance to Israeli policy and becomes the subject of a mounting court battle.

Every Friday, a heterogeneous cohort of villagers and activists from the region stand across from the barbed wire checkpoint and protest the new encroachment while the Israeli military shoot rubber bullets and throw tear gas grenades at them.

Burnat takes this mounting fight to heart, recording with his camera as friends and neighbors are being led into an increasingly dangerous confrontation with Israeli soldiers. He takes considerable risks filming the events, regularly getting his camera broken then managing to get a new one and ultimately accumulating seven-hundred hours of footage. Guy Davidi, an Israeli who’s been involved in the fight against the construction of the wall, took on editing duties.

With “Broken” Burnat combines the sum total of his experiences of the conflict into a melancholy but mesmeric retelling. Children getting arrested in the night, fistfights, broken film equipment, the century-old olive trees burned by settlers live and the death of a young man named Bassem–fault was to stand with his arms held outstretched in front of the soldiers who shot a gas canister right into in his chest—every glimpse of destruction a new affirmation that cohabitation between Jews and Arabs in that part of the world is a pipe dream, albeit one which lives on in the propitious collaboration that cinema instills among people.

Emad Burnat is likely aware of his indebtedness to his Israeli friends, however. It is in a Tel Aviv hospital that his life is saved after a car accident.

After a successful run on the festival circuit “Five Broken Cameras” was nominated for an Academy Award. Presumably many among the millions watching this sunday’s telecast will be wondering if this documentary will earn the year’s best distinction.

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Emad Burnat, in the shop (still from the movie)

Davidi and Burnat

Davidi and Burnat during an interview

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