'5 Broken Cameras': Palestinian's story a moving work of art
A review of "5 Broken Cameras," a documentary that is partly a piece of advocacy journalism but also a visual essay and a modest, rigorous and moving work of art.
The New York Times
'5 Broken Cameras,' a documentary directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Arabic, English and Hebrew, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
"5 Broken Cameras" provides a grim reminder — just in case you needed one — of the bitter intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A chronicle of protest and endurance, punctuated by violence and tiny glimmers of hope, this documentary is unlikely to persuade anyone with a hardened view of the issue to think again. For anyone who retains an interest in the human contours of the situation, however, the movie is necessary, if difficult, viewing.
For while it is hardly neutral — presenting an extended, highly personal view of life in a West Bank village adjacent to Israel's controversial security fence — "5 Broken Cameras" is much more than yet another polemical bulletin from an embattled region.
It may seem perverse to praise an eyewitness account of political trauma for its formal accomplishments, but for a project like this to claim the attention of an audience it has to justify itself as cinema. There is no shortage of information and opinion about the Middle East, and this film, made collaboratively by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, is partly a piece of advocacy journalism. But it is also a visual essay in autobiography and, as such, a modest, rigorous and moving work of art.
Burnat, a Palestinian farmer in the tiny town of Bilin, was given his first camera in 2005, when his youngest son, Gibreel, was born. Almost simultaneously, the Israeli army began building a barrier between Bilin and a nearby Jewish settlement.
The residents of Bilin, outraged as their olive groves were bulldozed by the military and burned by settlers, organized weekly protests.
In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the barrier rerouted, and four years later, after village access to some of the land was restored, the demonstrations were called off. Burnat's was not the only camera present at these protests, but the footage he shot, which is accompanied by after-the-fact voice-over narration and part of a video diary of his daily life, is especially poignant and intimate.