Sundance Pick: 5 Broken Cameras

Trailer “5 Broken Cameras” from Guy Davidi on Vimeo.


“By healing, you resist oppression. – Emad Burnat”

5 Broken Cameras is a story of living in the shadow of oppression, a moving portrait of vibrant resistance through the unapologetic embrace of life itself. Set in the small Palestinian village of Bil’in, the story and narrative belongs to Emad Burnat, who became the eye of the village and ultimately chronicled over five years of activism. The people of Bil’in found their lands being encroached on by the building of a new settlement, and the wall to protect that settlement. They protest peacefully, marching up to the wall each Friday and thinking of new actions and demonstrations to stop the advancement of the settlement.

During this time, Emad also had a son, Gibreel, which brought his total brood to four. Emad mentions that each of the boys knows a slightly different world. The eldest was born during the Olso Accords which meant that he grew up with more freedom and mobility. Gibreel, on the other hand, mixes his first words of “mommy” and “daddy” with “army,” “cartridge” and “run! run!” If it weren’t for the ever present undercurrent of violence, Emad’s life would almost be seen as idyllic: a loving family; a large, involved village; numerous dances and celebrations are cornerstones of the life they create. Their marches are also full of hope and some humor. At one point, tired of the late night raids on the village, a group of children march up to the wall, chanting “We want to sleep! We want to sleep!” The situation in Bil’in gained international attention, and groups of Israeli, German, and other activists come at various points to show their support and solidarity. However, violence is never far enough away, and the promise of more hangs over Bil’in like a cloud.

The documentary is brutal to watch–at various points in the film, I wished it would end, not because I was bored, but because I wanted to stop watching the endless cycle of violence. Outside of the usual tear-gassing and violent treatment of the protestors, other army actions loomed just as large. At one point in the film, the peace activists discover that Israeli special forces have disguised themselves as Palestinians and began creating chaos at a demonstration before hauling people away to be arrested by their comrades at the top of the hill. Another scene shows one of the most outspoken activists, Daba, being isolated by a group of police officers who then calmly and deliberately shoot him in the leg.

Still, through it all, Emad continues filming, even as his cameras are damaged by human hands, stun grenades, and bullets. He questions his role as an impartial journalist the day his brother is arrested, watching his mother and father throw themselves in front of the Army van to try to prevent him from being taken. His work makes him a target, and he is aware of that. But the most devastating part of the document was watching the impact of the events and the violence on Emad’s children.

Gibreel is a happy, sunny child who grows more and more serious after witnessing many of the events in the village and at large. He witnesses the protests, watches as older boys are seized in the middle of night by the Israeli army, see countless arrests, and kicks around spent catridges as if they are toys. As a baby, Gibreel toddles over to an Israeli soldier and hands him an olive branch with a sweet smile on his face. A couple of years later, Gibreel asks his father why he can’t just kill the soldiers with a knife, after he realizes that one of his dear friends was shot down during a protest. Emad pays careful attention to the children trying to contextualize their lives, asking “How will they be able to bear their anger?” Gibreel’s innocence is lost before he turns five–while it pains Emad to acknowledge this, he also realizes that in order for Gibreel to survive, he will have to be exposed to reality.

“Dreaming can be dangerous,” notes Emad. “The only protection I can offer him is letting him see everything.”

(Note: I interviewed Guy & Emad – that interview will be posted later today.)

  • JJ

    I just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying your reviews, which are at least as good as those of professional film critics.  I’d love to see you writing more of them!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you! I always feel like I’m not doing it right, since I have no idea if something is single camera or multicamera or whatever.  I just watch lots of movies…

  • JJ

    I just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying your reviews, which are at least as good as those of professional film critics.  I’d love to see you writing more of them!