Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat spent five years filming his village’s resistance to Israeli settlers — and brought his intimate but powerful documentary to the Sundance film festival.
Co-directed with Israeli Guy Davidi, “5 Broken Cameras” was shown in competition on the first weekend of the world-renowned independent film festival, which runs until January 29 in the US ski resort of Park City, Utah.
The West Bank village of Bilin, some 10 kilometers (six miles) west of Ramallah, made headlines when its inhabitants demonstrated in 2005 against an Israeli settlement on their land.
The same year Burnat, an olive picker, received a small camera as a gift for the birth of his fourth child. He rapidly developed from family home movies to filming the resistance of Bilin.
“Emad… started filming what was happening, but he didn’t think about making a film,” said Davidi, who met the Palestinian in 2005 when he was making a film about the West Bank and the problem of water.
“It took a long time, for what he said, until he started thinking of making a film with the footage he got.”
It was only in 2009 that Emad called Guy saying he wanted to make a documentary out of his footage, even though many films had already been produced on the subject.
“I had the feeling that we could do a film from his point of view if we could use the footage that he had shot in a very personal way,” said Davidi.
Burnat agreed to the idea — a courageous decision, said the Israeli.
“He took a big risk in revealing himself. For a Palestinian, to make a personal and intimate movie, filming his wife, or himself, fragile and vulnerable when he’s arrested, for example, is very delicate,” Davidi said.
The result is powerful both narratively and emotionally, as Burnat reveals the intimate link between his personal life and events in Bilin — his brothers’ arrest, the death of one of his brothers under Israeli fire, his own arrest, his wife’s reproaches, or the daily risks to film protests.
Risks illustrated by the title of the film itself: he needed five cameras, all of them destroyed during rallies or in clashes with the Israeli armed forces, to make the whole movie.
“For Emad, filming is a way to survive and to keep going. The minute we begin to do the film, I knew that it would be a film about persistence,” said Davidi.
While there is lots of footage of the violence of the Israeli Defense Forces set against peaceful resistance by villagers, “we didn’t want to create a picture just manipulated to some kind of ideology,” he said.
“We had to confront all of the events that are part of a human life.”
For example, Israeli soldiers are shown evacuating Burnat to an Israeli hospital. “In that sense, these soldiers saved Emad’s life. If you ask Emad, he will tell you there is nothing personal (against) the soldiers.
“Some of them can be very violent, and some of them can be kind.”
And he said: “I’m not optimistic or pessimistic. I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I think there are many undercurrents in Israeli society that can surprise anyone, that are very important.
“This is how I feel. There are many people, emotionally, that are on the verge of changing completely their views. I am sure that there will be a window of opportunity for change,” Davidi said.
“But what will happen during that window, that’s the big question.”