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5 Broken Cameras Movie Review

Emad Burnat is a Palestinian man who lives in Bil'in, a small village dependent on farming and olive trees. This sounds pastoral enough, but his area is on the other side of a fence erected by Israel to keep his people out. In 2005, Emad bought a video camera to chronicle the life of his newborn son, Gibreel. The fence was erected on that very same day, so Gibreel's life to date has been spent near a fence that separates two societies at war with one another.

The hostilities that we here in America read about to varying degrees is young Gibreel's daily life. Over the course of about five years, Emad records the lives in his village and the surrounding areas. He lives among a group of peaceful protesters trying to reclaim the land they say has been stolen by the Israelis. It also is a video history of various confrontations between the villagers and the very young Israeli soldiers called upon to do what is expected of them by their superiors. No one is winning and everyone is losing.

"5 Broken Cameras" is codirected by Emad and Guy Davidi, an Israeli who sympathizes with the plight of Emad and his villagers. Their take on this is at the most local level. While there are certainly implications far beyond this little tract of land that concern the larger issues of the right of Israel and Palestine to exist, this film only touches upon that aspect, focusing on just the local scene, using Emad's own footage as the entire film.


The film quality is poor, but that is not a knock on the film. Emad has been through five broken cameras, all destroyed during altercations between the villagers and Israeli soldiers. Often, the footage we watch has been shot from cameras already badly damaged. This enhances the power of the film rather than taking anything away from it.

The most powerful aspect of it all is the featuring of Emad's brothers and friends. We come to know them as the film goes on. One is a very vocal man who always leads the people's chants while waving the Palestinian flag, especially in the faces of the Israeli soldiers, daring to provoke them. Every so often he accomplishes his goal and gets carted off to jail, beaten up, or both. The most powerfully presented villager is a big, sweet man who is always laughing and smiling and playing around with the village children. He is not part of the protest or provocation, so when something finally happens to him, it is especially upsetting. Another scene where a Palestinian is held and shot in the leg is pure horror to watch.

"5 Broken Cameras" is very difficult to watch. It makes us question our preconceptions of our opinions of Palestinians in general and it also forces us to confront the fact that everyone involved on both sides is a human being. While some will choose to use this film as a way of saying Israel is bad, Palestine is good, that would be a foolish thing to do. Equally foolish is to react as one of my closest friends has. He claims that the footage must all be doctored and that I believe what I have seen means that I hate Israel and love Palestinians. He even went so far as to compare me to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is a Holocaust denier. He, like so many, misses the point that this film is a small piece of the pie and whatever one's opinion of the conflict in general, there are good and bad people on both sides of this "fence".

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