Friday, June 1, 2012

5 BROKEN CAMERAS: Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi's occupation doc opens at Film Forum

For those of us who've by now watched a number of films about life in Israel's occupied territories and/or Palestinians under the Israeli thumb -- from documentaries like the bile-raising This is My Land...Hebron (click and scroll down), which was part of the 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Fest, and Simone Bitton's film about Rachel Corrie to narratives such the Oscar nominated foreign film Ajami and Eran Riklis' Lemon Tree-- viewing yet another movie about this gross injustice (which will not, it appears, cease anytime soon) might seem like the filmic equivalent of lengthening one's prison sentence.

5 BROKEN CAMERAS, which opened this past Wednesday, but which I am only just able to cover now, fits this bill to a T and yet manages to make the horrible story it tells worth viewing by turning the personal into the political -- and both into a kind of recorded history. The filmmaking team responsible for the documentary consists of first-timer Emad Burnat (above, right, and in mirror), the Palestinian owner of those titular cameras, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli filmmaker and film professor (shown above, left).

Over the period covering 2005 through 2010, Burnat used his camera(s) to record both the life of his family (above), starting with the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel (shown in close-up in the photo at bottom), at the same time as he is recording the life, and its increasing difficulties, of his village Bil'in. Here, the Israeli forces have put together a kind of barrier/fence, along with other "constructions," in addition to trailers belonging to the "settlers" that suddenly appear overnight -- all of which manages to confis-cate much of the Palestinian's land. During all of this, as Burbat is recording events and family, Davidi is recording Burnat (or so I am assuming, for somebody has to be behind that other camera).

The consistently aggressive moves of the Israeli army towards the peacefully demonstrating Palestinians of Bil'in, even to the extent of refusing to let the filmmaker film (this accounts for four of those five broken cameras), should anger viewers, just as it does the villagers, building toward harder and more awful scenarios, as this anger grows. At the same time, little Gibreel is growing, too, and we celebrate birthdays and family gatherings along with the ever-present demonstrations, as the baby becomes a child, and the child becomes one of the disenfranchised.

In any ninety-minute movie that attempts to cover five years, selection is all important. Generally speaking, the filmmakers seem to have selected pretty well although there are times when I wanted more information. How, for instance, does Burnat earn his living? The word journalist is mentioned, but for whom does he work? There is a car crash -- good-bye camera number four -- that seems to come out of nowhere and is never explained very well. While Burnat tells us that it may have saved his life, one also wonders if it was not a bit suicidal.

Toward the conclusion, everything seems to speed up -- from the intensity of the Israeli attacks to the filmmakers' frustrations. And when death comes, it is still as shocking and unexpected as ever. After five years of protests, there finally is a little progress to be seen: that fence/barrier comes down. Then up goes a cement wall. "Film-making is healing," notes Burnat, but TrustMovies didn't exactly see it that way. Filmmaking is certainly a record of atrocity, and of a family beginning to fracture. Either or both ways, this remains film-making worth experiencing.

Five Broken Cameras, from Kino Lorber, opened this past Wednesday, May 30, for a two-week run at New York City's Film Forum. Click here, then scroll down, to see the playdates and theaters scheduled for another ten cities across the country.

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