S Broken Cameras

 

BETWEEN 2005 and 2011, the small Palestinian village of Bil’in orchestrated weekly peaceful protests against the construction of the UN-outlawed West Bank Barrier. The timeframe matches a West Bank video diary maintained by local farmer Emad Burnat. For six years he filmed the activists with a camera purchased to document the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. Tellingly, “cartridge” and “army” are among the child’s first words.

This documentary follows that camera and four others. Each rig is lost, to various angry Israeli settlers and soldiers’ bullets, over the course of Burnat’s unflinching lensing.

The dread barrier necessitates the burning and bulldozing of olive groves and cuts many villagers off from their land. Tensions mount and Burnat’s hair grays visibly as Bil’in becomes the focus of visiting foreign campaigners and a 2007 ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court.

“When I film, I feel like the camera protects me,” Burnat tells us. “But it is an illusion.” Sure enough, both equipment and chronicler attract threats and violence.

We’re told that, like poetry, more people are making documentaries than are actually watching them. In many respects Burnat’s footage, with its considered, softly spoken observations on family life, might be just another YouTube confessional. The flashpoint geopolitics change everything. Burnat’s images have already been utilised as evidence in Israeli military courts and by the international press. Here, working with Israeli film-maker Guy Davidi, Burnat has condensed all that raw data into a personal journey through a much larger, sorrier conflict.

Burnat’s wife Soraya repeatedly expresses fears for her husband – and with good cause. Over the duration, we meet various family members and neighbours who are killed or spirited away by Israeli agents. We’re not at all surprised when soldiers arrive at the cameraman’s house to arrest him on apparently trumped up charges.

It hardly needs to be said that 5 Broken Cameras is a fearless enterprise. Davidi and Burnat’s award-winning feature may not, by definition, be impartial, but it does feel honest and significant. Sadly, if the entrenchment found in Burnat’s document is any kind of indicator, none of the right people will ever be watching.

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