5 Broken Cameras

In 2005, Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat buys a camera to film his newborn son, Gibreel. However, he soon becomes embroiled in documenting the ongoing protests in his village of Bil’in, and spends the next five years recording raids, grenades and gunfire. The resulting documentary is a gripping piece of political activism, and an arresting piece of cinema that plunges the viewer into the face of real-life conflict.

Emad is continually attacked for filming events, and each of his five cameras are destroyed in the process. There is a constant sense that what we are seeing is forbidden, and in danger of being cut off, but there is also a sense of social injustice and an urgency to defend the rights of a community that are being gradually forced out of their homes.

The cameras are an extension of Emad, and in two instances they literally save his life from bullets aimed at his head. Initially he says “I film to hold my memories”, taking footage of his family and friends in their daily life, but this soon changes into “when I film, I feel like the camera protects me” when he puts himself on the front line to film. It is constantly shocking that the shootings seen in the film are not staged. There is no fake blood or people yelling ‘cut’; every fallen body is a real human life. During the film, Emad is in a car accident and is unconscious for 20 days. He is taken to an Israeli hospital and his stomach is stapled, leaving a scar 12 inches long. Seeing him hospitalized makes his sacrifice to make the film even more alarming.

The film’s star is little Gibreel, a boy whose first five years of life are surrounded by violence and unrest. His first words are ‘army’ and ‘the wall’, referring to the wall that separates Occupied territory from the village. His brothers Mohammed, Yasin and Taki-Ydin are present throughout, and become protestors themselves on many occasions. Their playground is a dusty battlefield and they play football with empty cans of tear gas. In his narration, Emad says his children must become tough men, which is why he exposes them to everything he sees. On his fifth birthday, the last one the film features, Emad comments that Gibreel is now a young man. There is a sense that he will become part of the next generation of freedom fighters, and that his struggle will be an equally difficult one to his father’s in years to come.

However, this is not a pessimistic film as there are often points of humour and poignancy. In one scene, a group of chickens sit up a tree and onlookers laugh, commenting that they have no walls; they are free. Comparisons of the film could be made to Jafar Panahi’s most recent film, This Is Not A Film, incredibly made under house arrest where has been imprisoned by the Iranian government. This is filmmaking under difficult conditions and Emad shows us, by taking his camera to hospital when he is attacked, to when he is jailed and then put under house arrest for a month, that filmmaking provides an escape for him.

Ending on an optimistic note, Emad tells us that he was shot but his 6th camera survived, and that he continues to film events. The duty to give a voice to the people powers the documentary on. Emad says “I know I have a purpose in life” and it’s hard to disagree with him; filmmaking is a responsibility and right, one that no one can take away.

5 Broken Cameras is Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The DVD is on sale now.

About The Author