I don't think I've seen a more affecting documentary this year than Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's 5 Broken Cameras, winner of the directing award in the documentary category at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Cobbled out of Burnat's footage of his Palestinian hometown of Bi'lin as it protests against an encroaching illegal Israeli settlement, the film is an incredibly layered work of resistance cinema, acknowledging what's been lost while simultaneously turning its head to a future just beyond the horizon.
Burnat, who also narrates the piece, admits early on that he never intended to become a filmmaker. His first camera was acquired shortly after the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, with the sole purpose of filming his family's day-to-day lives. But, coinciding with the arrival of his son, a powerful, non-violent activist movement emerges on the streets and surrounding countryside of Bi'lin.
It inspires Emad to participate through documentation of the town's crusade against the illegal barriers and settlements that threaten and displace the residents of his village. The film's title acknowledges the series of cameras passing through Burnat's hands, each one in need of replacement after being destroyed during demonstrations ending in violent reaction by the Israeli military.
As the movement grows, so does Gibreel who, like the other children of the village, must come to grips with the chaotic environment in which he has been born. Emad worries aloud for his son's generation, wondering how long non-violent resistance will last, given all the children have witnessed. It's a question worth asking, even as Bi'lin's struggle garners support from activists around the globe. Burnat's cameras watch as the increased numbers continue to yield limited results. Meanwhile, the losses become more personal by the day.
I've never seen any act of direct journalism as powerful as 5 Broken Cameras. In creating a visual journal of a protest movement, from their nascent birth as a cluster of the oppressed to a swarming throng motivated by righteous indignation, Burnat has captured the very essence of what it is to push back against the seemingly immovable object, all while highlighting a very specific struggle in a non-didactic manner. These are the memories that his cameras recorded, truth viewed through the eyepiece of five tools of resistance.
Five Broken Cameras screens as a part of the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Thursday, April 26th at 7pm. More info about the festival available here.
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