A tragic inevitability of long term conflicts such as that between Israel/Palestine is that the people affected are quickly forgotten and deaths perceived as mere statistics. Set in the small Palestinian village of Bil’in, 5 Broken Cameras documents the weekly non-violent protests by residents pleading the government to halt the expansion of nearby Israeli settlements slowly encroaching on their farmland and livelihood. Local farmer and father Emad Burnat shot the footage over a five year period, capturing close-up the extreme use of force used by the Israeli army to suppress the outcries of the subjugated.
Burnat’s motivation for shooting his day to day life was the birth of his fourth son Gibreel. The parallel between the childhood innocence of his newborn and the perilous struggles taking place around him is harrowing, and made all the more heartbreaking as Gibreel grows to understand the unjustifiable treatment imposed on those around him. Burnat has captured footage the likes of which no journalist could hope to emulate. His position in the community allowed him access to the candid opinions of the residents, many of whom his close friends and family. Burnat is a hugely likable personality, and our admittance into his family life successfully gives a human face to this on going misfortune.
The response by the Israeli army to these non-violent demonstrations are the most disheartening and frustrating moments in 5 Broken Cameras. Watching as the technologically superior army fire indiscriminately into the fleeing crowds does not make for easy viewing but really enlightens you to the injustices suffered by these people. Burnat does not rely on tragedy alone to tell this tale. Like the subjects themselves, you can’t help but smile at the wicked lengths the Israeli government goes through to stop these protests. Unprejudiced is not a word they uphold, as laws are contorted to suit their requirements and hinder any retaliation from the Palestinians. Burnat is an exceptional father, while he doesn’t entirely shield his children from their troubling situation he makes sure their upbringing is not defined by it.
While the personal vision of 5 Broken Cameras is where it succeeds, I would still advise viewing with a level of skepticism. To present the Palestinian villagers as ones of unrelenting honour and the Israeli army as murderous savages seems too ideal in a conflict known to be highly complex. While the radical hostility is frequently shown to be initiated by the Israeli’s, I fear Burnat’s lens may neglect crucial details in an attempt present their plight unequivocally on the side of good. The Israeli guards are scarcely shown to be more than dispassionate, cruel and unrelenting in their duty, however in the hundreds of hours of footage captured by Burnat I find it difficult to believe he didn’t catch an ounce of humanity from the other side.
Burnat often refers to the camera as his protection, granting immunity from the bullets and grenades around him. However, he is by no means dissociated from the violence, the five cameras sacrificed in capturing this footage demonstrate how involved and passionate he is in the quest for peace and justice. Sadly, there are those around him who are not so lucky and we’re faced with horrific images of fatally wounded demonstrators that makes it difficult viewing in some parts. This being said, the positive outlook on life of Burnat and his family, coupled with the unflagging spirit of the residents is inspirational, making 5 Broken Cameras essential viewing regardless of your knowledge or standpoint on the conflict.