Five Broken Cameras

- by Alex Jones - 

Welcome to the first in a series of film reviews which will highlight some of the most interesting issues facing our region. Watching movies and reading books about somewhere you visited is a great way to reminisce and avoid forgetting the places you went, the things you saw and the people you met. It's also a great way to prepare and get excited for an upcoming trip!

This week we are covering...


Five Broken Cameras was co-directed by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer from the village of Bil'in. In 2005 he bought a camera to record the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, but also uses it to film the expansion of the nearby Israeli settlement Modi'in Illit and the construction of the West Bank barrier through the village land. Over the coming years, he films his son growing up as the settlement expands. Bil'in has weekly protests against the Wall and Burnat films stone throwing, tear gas being fired, protestors being beaten and several deaths. Five times throughout the film his camera is broken and replaced, giving the film its name.

There are few films which document the effects of the Occupation in as compelling a manner as Five Broken Cameras does. The way in which Burnat shows his young family growing up against the backdrop of violence and the weekly protests serves to highlight the innocence of his children. But the real tragedy is how short their childhoods are. A particularly poignant moment is when Gibreel utters his first words; the Arabic for 'cartridge' and 'wall'. In this environment, it is hard to stay carefree and naïve for long.

Gibreel looks over the West Bank barrier and the settlement of Modi'in Illit
The movie is shot in a natural and even amateurish way, which serves to further strengthen the humble narrative. The human connection viewers feel for the characters of Bil'in is crafted expertly in a short space of time - the film's run time is just over an hour and a half - and the film tells the stories of an array of people whom audiences will really empathise with.

After his fifth camera was destroyed, he teamed up with an Israeli director, Guy Davidi, and an international team to help turn his raw footage into an Oscar-nominated film. Although the protests at Bil'in are branded as 'non-violent', the crowds are often aggressive, confrontational and throw rocks. Otherwise unarmed, it does nevertheless weaken the non-violent claim. The film however reminds us that shooting with a camera can be much more powerful than shooting with a gun, as the film made waves all around the world. It was widely critically acclaimed and won many awards. It's run to the Best Documentary Oscar was coincidentally stopped by another film dealing with the Occupation. Read next week's blog to find out more!

You can find legal versions of the film, with English subtitles, on Vimeo and Youtube. Please watch and let us know what you thought of the film in the comments below! And if you join us on any of our Bethlehem tours, you will have the chance to visit Banksy's museum in the Walled Off Hotel. Here you can see one of the eponymous Five Cameras - with an IDF bullet wedged in the lens. The bullet would have gone straight into Burnat's brain had he not been filming at the time. Maybe these Five Broken Cameras saved his life in more ways than one.

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