Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time with my sister’s kids – my nephew and two nieces. I even more than willingly fulfilled some duties as a khala/aunt and read a few books to my four year-old niece. One book I read was about an anthropomorphic tractor named Otis that helped save the farm animals, including the bull that no one ever liked because he always seemed so angry, from a tornado that touched down on the farm where they were lived. This was after I read my niece a book about Angelina, the mouse that was a ballerina and who was going to be a bridesmaid at a princess’s wedding (I know, right?).
A day after I read those books to my niece, I watched the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras, which is now streaming on Netflix and available for rental/Amazon Instant Video/however it is you get your movies these days. This film takes place in the village of Bil’in in Palestine. Director Emad Burnat started filming during the time in which a separation fence that encroached further on the land of the Palestinians for the settlements began construction. From 2005-2009, Burnat follows the non-violent protests against this barrier held by his fellow villagers and their inevitable run-ins with IDF soldiers. On occasion, the villagers are joined by activists from all around the world, including some Israeli citizens as well, as they try to reclaim land that is rightfully theirs.
The beginning of the documentary also coincides with the birth of Burnat’s fourth son Gibreel so as the director films the people in his village and the protests, he also shows us his family and we see Gibreel grow from a newborn to 5 years old. When Gibreel is just a toddler, he accompanies his father and brothers to protests. In one particular instance, the tear gas is launched like clockwork and even though Gibreel is in a car, you hear him cough on the gas. Later, as he’s telling his mom about the protest, his mom calls him a hero. Gibreel continuously sees his dad’s friends getting hurt, family members arrested, and IDF soldiers setting off tear gas and also going through their village. Watching 5 Broken Cameras so soon after spending quite a bit of time with family, I couldn’t help but think that Gibreel’s reality is so different than that of my own nephews and nieces. By including his family into 5 Broken Cameras, Burnat makes this documentary stand out. He humanizes the occupation in a manner that even if we can’t relate to it because hopefully many of us do not deal with outside forces trying to take our land, we can at least come away with a better understanding of what the situation is and the effects it has.
Burnat is the objective cameraman in all of this and and so he grapples with what it means to not only be behind the lens, but to stay there despite what is going on in front of him. This is a much different documentary than say something like the excellent Occupation 101. The creators of Occupation 101 give a history of the occupation from its roots, talk to experts, and also interview several people in the occupied lands. 5 Broken Cameras is only about the people in Bi’lin and their unending quest to hold onto what’s theirs. Those of us who watch 5 Broken Cameras have now become witnesses to the plight. With the Oscar nomination, 5 Broken Cameras has a great opportunity to be the way in which many more people become aware of the ramifications of the occupation. Check it out.
Just a note – Although most of the documentary is composed of material filmed by Emad Burnat, 5 Broken Cameras is also co-directed by Guy Davidi.