Friday, October 17, 2014

5 BROKEN CAMERAS (2011) Tell A Story

The Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi co-production between Palestine, Israel, and France is a film that hits a person on the gut level.  Assembled from 5 years of footage following the birth of his youngest son, Gibreel, Burnat is an excellent profiler of the non-violent resistance in his village, Bil'in, to the encroachment of settlers and the temporary barrier that predated the construction of the larger wall.  The film's narrative and editing were developed in collaboration with Davidi and funded through and Israeli art association.  At the time of release, there were two debates generated around the film, based on charges that collaboration was problematic.  Lisa Goldman's piece summarized it excellently in 2013, as well as Davidi's statement:
I wanted to write a few words for this very complex day. When a film succeeds, you’re supposed to sit back and enjoy, but when a film like 5 Broken Cameras succeeds, a whole box of complex challenges opens up. Every side immediately has its interpretation of the filmmakers or the film. Some are Israelis who immediately appropriate the film for national pride or pride over the national arts, but obscure or completely omit the fact that it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film. Not that a film should have a citizenship at all. On the other hand, there are also activists who are in turn offended by this appropriation and expect harsh statements in response; the kind of statements that would obliterate the possibility of having the film connect with a slightly broader audience. There are dear Israelis, some of them also inside the establishment itself, who supported and lifted up the film, such as the New Fund for Cinema and Television, who were the most incredible and supportive partners for the making of the film, and who are facing an established system that is threatening their existence and independence. And there are the Palestinians and the Arab World, for whom this detail makes it difficult to accept the film, and the film can’t even be screened there because of that.
There is a nonviolent struggle that faces challenges not only from the Israeli occupation but also from within, and the portrayal of partnership with Israelis is a complex challenge, and a Palestinian director may find himself under attack for that. And then there are journalists and headline editors who are looking for half a sentence, a quarter of a sentence that they can wave around, and situate the left wing director in a provocative and nonthreatening space, and the Palestinian director in a nationalistic and nonthreatening space. And then there will be lots of talk-backs for a short while, and the whole matter will be forgotten and the audience will be happy that there is nothing new under the sun and they can continue their lives without disturbance or worry. And in that place, any achievement that was reached is crushed. This is a day with joy and sadness. Joy – it’s clear why, but sadness – about the ability of a delicate and complicated conversation to come out.
The direct cinema nature of this film is impressive and creates an ethnographic profile of the West Bank and the psychology of being under oppression, put on display by the narrator's interaction with the environments he finds himself in.  There are multiple instances where the director shows the brutal and absurd nature of 'security' being imposed by the IDF and so many thousands of tear gas grenades they use to break up crowds marching non-violently, and yet he does not speak over the soundtrack, instead he remains silent and keeps the camera still.
The film is also dynamic because its timeline is also one outlining a progression in digital cinema and the evolution of camera technology each broken device represents.  There are passages where the video imagery will noticeably transition in quality of resolution and pixelation.  The quality of memory itself is invoked, with space, the confiscated land, as a marker of the brutal changing of the seasons.  The image of burning olive trees, lit on fire by the settlers, seemingly burned from inside out, creating a skeleton-like figure in the dark that serves as a powerful analogue for the oppression surrounding their land.  But the people continue to return to these landscapes of their destroyed heritage and memories, refusing to give up their patriotism and joy for the cause of a free Palestine.  And so by replacing these cameras and continue filming, Emmad says he is able to heal through video.  The act of memory, his recording of it, and the transcendence of heritage and culture through space and time seen in the funerals, birthdays, and protests, creates a holistic vision of Palestinian life that is dynamic and powerful.

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