Mali Navia | Contributor
During a conflict opposing the Israeli army, in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, situated in the West Bank, a man decided to film everything. Camera in hand, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer, became the eyes of the conflict. 5 Broken cameras is an honest documentary, almost created by accident that presents to the audience a deep and intimate view on human rights.
The fact is, Burnat is not a professional filmmaker, he did not have a budget and he did not even have the intention of turning this footage into a documentary. Due to its accidental nature, it could be argued that this documentary is reaching a level of objectivity that is rarely to encounter in filmmaking. In his film, Burnat explains how all of his footage became a documentary: “I only wanted to take part in the conflict. I filmed to remember, to help me get through my life. The idea of making a film came later on”. It is without any desire of influencing people minds that Emad shared his day-to-day family life, in contrast with the surrounded chaos and violence of the conflict.
The Documentary is constructed around the destruction of Emad’s five cameras. All of which have been destroyed while filming the conflict. They each represent a period of his life and they allow the viewer to see directly how the conflict started, escalated and then was resolved.
With his first camera, that he had bought to film his youngest son, Burnat started by presenting his family. One day, the Israeli army put up a security barrier separating Bil’in’s lands in half. The people decided to show their disagreement by manifesting in peace. But the conflict grew and the violence started. What is automatically striking is the unfair nature of the conflict: an army against normal men trying to peacefully protect their land.
Then, because of their protests, the Israeli army used mass arrests and child kidnappings to pressure the people into giving up their land. As a viewer, and probably because the film is captured with a handheld camera, you feel like you are witnessing something that you should not see. The violent scenes do not seem like they have been chosen to shock or manipulate the viewer’s perspective. This is where the power of Burnat’s documentary resides.
We are drawn to the cause and not the images and we feel like we can trust what we see.
Throughout the years, Burnat got hurt and almost killed, lost some friends and got arrested for not wanting to stop filming. But he did. At a Q&A at Concordia University, he showed that without inhibitions, some of the most difficult moments of his life happened only because he wanted a chance to “change some mentalities”.
What is striking is the degree of simplicity of the documentary: it shows a story; however it does not try to explain it.
Nowadays, the conflict in Bil’in is partially resolved. The images filmed by Burnat are traveling all around the world and are partly responsible for all the media attention that Bil’in received. Presented in countless International Film Festivals, Burnat can be proud to have proven, among other things, that it is possible to make things change with mere means.
The documentary was screened by ‘’Les Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal’’ (RIDM) and Cinema Politica, on Monday, Nov. 12, at Concordia University, and was followed by a Q&A with Burnat.