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5 Broken Cameras

Jeremy Clarke

Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Certificate 15, 94 minutes


At once an extraordinary political document and a meditation on the very nature of cinema, this film is a product of the tense relationship between Israel and Palestine as it manifests itself in the West Bank - specifically, in a little, farming village named Bil'in, to the west of Ramallah where Emad Burnat lives. He is basically an ordinary family man caught up in an appalling situation. When his fourth son Gibreel was born in 2005, Emad bought a video camera to make home movies of his family. But then, being the only person to own a camera in the village, he quickly became the one to whom anyone came if something happened worth filming. Which it did, soon after he got the camera: it came to light that the proposed route of Israel's 'Separation Barrier' between herself and the resident Palestinians would take about half the villagers' farm land from them.

In the course of charting Israel's actions and the villagers' responses to them over the next few years, five of Emad's cameras were irreparably damaged, giving the film its memorable title. Some were broken by soldiers' bullets, one trashed by a settler, another destroyed in a car crash. By the end, Emad is on his sixth camera, and keeps the previous five as bizarre reminders of what he and his village have recently gone through.

In much the same way that he felt compelled to record on camera the growth and development of his son, Emad keeps shooting video pictures of events unfolding around him out of a deep conviction that he simply must do so. There's something that goes to the very core of being human about his action and the resultant process. This is a man with no professional knowledge about making films, no concept even of making 'a film' as such. The documentary that results from his compulsion has only taken shape thanks to the involvement of the filmmaker and activist Guy Davidi, who collaborated with Emad on the editing and post-production processes. The result is often raw, occasionally boring and wholly rough around the edges, yet because of its subject matter and the emotional entanglement of Emad's camera with his pressing subject, the whole thing proves incredibly powerful and compelling. Once viewed, it's not easily forgotten.

You can enter this film with little or no knowledge about what's going on and exit feeling extremely well informed about the West Bank. Yet its strength lies not in any kind of didacticism or preaching, but rather in the very down-to-earth ordinariness of the man trying to capture and share what is going on in the small world he inhabits as forces beyond his control wreak havoc upon it. 

Jeremy Clarke