Directed by: Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi.
Emad Burnat is a Palestinian villager who has spent his whole life in his small village of Bil’in. He gets a camera on the occasion of his fourth son’s birth so he can document his son’s life. Emad, and seemingly everyone else is Bil’in, isn’t really political. They live a simple life, and are happy. All they really want is for things to stay the same. But when the Israeli government decides that they need to build a barrier – to separate villagers like Bil’in from the Israeli settlement near by, the people of Bil’in are not happy – and they start to protest. Their protests are non-violent – basically just the entire village going to the construction site of the barrier every Friday with signs and chanting at the workers and Israeli army member there. The Israeli response is not non-violent – he sees his friends and family arrested or beaten, and throughout the course of his movie, he will have five different cameras that he has used to document the protests destroyed.
The story that 5 Broken Cameras tells is undeniably powerful and important. The film is narrated by Burnat, who tells his story over the images his cameras caught. Professional filmmaker – and Israeli – Guy Davidi co-directed the film, one assumes to help give it a professional polish that Burnat, who says he knew nothing about filmmaking, would be incapable of giving. Had the two simply let the images speak for themselves, and cut back on the cloying narration, this could have been a great documentary. As it stands, I could not help but think that I was being manipulated throughout the entire running time of the documentary. The sad thing is, the filmmakers didn’t need to do that. In this case, it is hard to defend Israel’s actions – but I still don’t like the filmmakers bashing me over the head over and over again with their rather obvious point.
Take for instance a scene in which Burnat’s youngest son, Gibreel, who must be at most 3 at the time, goes up to an Israeli soldier and literally hands him an olive branch (olives being the main crop of the area). The film shows this, without narration, as if it was a natural, spur of the moment gesture by the wide eyed innocent Gibreel. But the whole scene reeks of a setup – I wonder just how long Gibreel needed to be coached before he did that?
The same sort of manipulation can be seen throughout the movie. Burnat and Davidi never tire of showing us wide eyed, innocent children to go along with their cloying narration that never really shares any real insight into what is happening, but is there to pull at the audience’s heartstrings.
Which is sad, because the story of the Bil’in protests is an important one. We hear stories of violent clashes between Israel and Palestine – and more often, Israel and its neighbors – far too often. The villagers in Bil’in are not trying to wipe Israel off the map, they just want to be left alone in their village, so they can raise their own families in peace. Their protests are peaceful, and what Israel does in response is overkill.
But 5 Broken Cameras remains a film that isn’t really interested in presenting a fair and balance picture of what happened. Instead, they insist on beating its point into your head over and over again, in the most broadly sentimental way imaginable. It’s too bad. The filmmakers didn’t need to go this route to make a good film. In fact, they would have been much better served if they hadn’t. This is a sad enough story that the filmmakers needn’t have tried so hard to pull at your heartstrings.