“Five Broken Cameras” the Oscar-nominated documentary about Palestinian popular resistance in the occupied West Bank, has found itself at the centre of an unusual debate — over its identity.
Co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, the film documents the story of Bil’in village and the struggle of its residents to protect their land from Jewish settlers and Israel’s giant separation barrier.
But while the story is Palestinian throughout, the film was made with funding from the Jewish state.
The story follows the villagers’ weekly demonstrations against the seizure of their land through the eyes of Burnat’s family.
When the Oscar nominations were announced in January, two local films got the nod, which some immediately pounced upon as a runaway Israeli success.
One was “The Gatekeepers,” which offers a glimpse into the secret world of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency through the eyes of six of its former chiefs.
The other was “Five Broken Cameras.”
“Two Israeli films are among the five nominated for best documentary for the Academy Awards,” Israel’s embassy in the United States said on its Twitter feed immediately after the nominations were announced.
It was a narrative quickly echoed by some of the Israeli press.
“After a remarkable string of Oscar nominations for scripted dramas, Israel’s film industry has managed a new feat in 2013: earning two nods in a different category, in a single year,” said the online Times of Israel.
The Jerusalem Post also flagged it as an achievement for “Israeli cinema.”
For Burnat, it was a “cunning attempt” to damage the film.
“The Israeli press tried to describe the film as Israeli which was strange to me because it is about me, my family and my village,” he told AFP.
“It cannot be an Israeli movie because it is about an attempt to erase Palestine.”
For Burnat’s co-director Davidi, the debate about whether the film is Israeli or Palestinian is “not important.”
“For me, the whole discussion is not a very important one because for me generally, films do not represent countries, even if they are produced by countries,” he told AFP.
“I don’t think films should have nationalities.”
The film, which also received French funding, tracks the life of Burnat and his family since the birth of their son Jibril in 2005, the same year Israel began building its sprawling separation barrier on lands owned by the village.
The title comes from the five cameras that were broken as Burnat captured the villagers’ plight on film over the years.
Davidi, a former Israeli activist who used to attend the weekly solidarity protests, got involved at Burnat’s request to help with production problems.
“I asked Guy to come and take part in the movie because he was a solidarity activist who comes to the demonstrations with us. I didn’t ask him to come to represent Israel or take part in an Israeli-Palestinian production,” Burnat said.
“Guy doesn’t represent Israel; he helped with the production and the funding.”
Davidi says there are many Israelis who produce work critical of the occupation, which often gives official Israel a way of showcasing the country’s democratic principles.
“There is an expectation that Israeli filmmakers will represent their country… but there is a way to use them to show Israel is democratic and an open society that allows open discussion and freedom of speech,” he explains.
“I am not willing to be used in that way to clear Israel’s name, especially as I am a part of a very small minority,” he said.
Much of the media wanted to put the focus on “the beautiful Israeli who supports the Palestinians” in a narrative rejected by both directors, Davidi said.
“Neither of us weren’t willing to put a lot of emphasis on that because the important thing in our story is to finish the occupation and change reality and not to beautify relations and make the audience think there is hope.”
Despite isolated attempts to co-opt the film, official Israel has not got involved, except for providing some of the funding through the ministry of culture and sport.
A spokesman told AFP the ministry was not responsible for the selection of films but allocated money on the basis of criteria recommended by the Israeli Film Council.
Even if the documentary does win an Academy Award at Sunday’s ceremony, Davidi can’t see the government embracing the film.
“I’m sure that if it wins the Oscar, the film will not be adopted, although in many cases I wish they would,” he said, indicating it could be used to great effect within the educational system.
“If Israeli officials actually took the film in order to do truthful self-accounting that helped with education, like showing the film in the parliament or inviting people in Israel to see it, this would be a positive thing.”