International Film #3: 5 Broken Cameras 2011 (Palestine)

5 Broken Cameras

courtesy of Burnet and Davidi

Chiang Mai – The Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival brought me three and half hours southeast from Pai on motorbike via Thai route 1095. Discussions, screenings, lectures and photograph galleries of Thai and international artists scattered throughout the city. What’s not to like? There are a number of topics I could review (and may) but it’s the recent documentary 5 Broken Cameras from Palestinian Emad Burat and Israeli Guy Davidi that makes cut for International Film #3. And to the think, I was “this” close from going back to my hostel room.


I caught the 7:30 screening of 5 Broken Cameras after a long yet insightful afternoon of gallery hopping and lecture about photography’s Lucie Awards with founder Hossein Farmani. Man I thought I had some stories…but I digress. After the lecture I tried to catch a moment of Farmani’s time but so was everyone else. So that lead to me the hall over at the Fine Art Center of Chiang Mai University. I asked the women attendant what was happening in the theater. She said there will be a screening for the documentary (5 Broken Camera) which is up for an Oscar.

“Honestly, I had heard of them but knew very little and I am really tired from the day,” is what I responded not really knowing that all five cameras actually belonged to Emad Burat. The day around Chiang Mai taking in the festival was great and truly insightful, but I truly was just…well..spent. Hearing this, she further enticed me by adding in her sweet Thai accent, “If you don’t like it after the first camera, you can always leave.” After the screening I wished there were more then five.

The movie opens with a shot of all five camera lying in a row on the table, broken, check that, destroyed. One has a lens crack, another a bullet hole (!) and yet another spewing it’s guts like a dying war vet with wires and electronic boards. Burat narrates in English (as he does the whole movie) but interacts speaking both Arabic and English.

Palestinian Burat set out to document his son’s Gibreel life from his birth in 2005, but came across a larger scope. Around the same time in his village of Bil’in, the Israeli’s begin bulldozing village olive groves to build a wall to separate Bil’in from the Jewish Settlement Modi’in. The Wall is routed to cut off 60% of Bil’in farmland. Of course this sets off the villagers whose families have held this land for generations and utilize it for their livelihood.

As the movie progresses we see the growth of Gibreel. From infant to toddler to young child, through first laughs to first words, to first realization and reasoning. But with his growth comes constant struggle for Bil’in against Israeli expansion of Modi’in. We see stones thrown as the only recourse from the Palestinian village against constant tear gas dispersion and eventual gun fire. Families begin to get chased out of their homes.

It’s difficult not to be moved by what is captured. We see Burat grow as a cameraman as he proceeds through his line of tools. As each camera is destroyed (all but one directly related to Israelis) the next takes on not only a better perception of the scene but a larger scope of what is really happening. Continued struggle, broken political promises and eventual deaths…yet somehow always evoking hope. I looked around the hall and actually caught a few people tearing up.

My review, as the film, skates a fine line of political involvement. I could easily tangent into the historical struggles of the region between the two groups as could have Burat and obviously he eludes to it. However I think the striking impact of this movie is that this is ACTUALLY happening, regardless of whom or where it is. We know now that the Israelis have backed off a bit in the West Bank especially around the Bil’in region. The wall that was constructed now torn down, but the Modi’in settlement still puts the now addition 60,000 Jews basically on their doorstep with far less land to cultivate. The damage was done. The importance of this film lies in the fact of it’s documentation.

I am sure there are other interpretations to events that took place, and events that still are, but a telling ally to Burat is Israeli Guy Davidi.  In 2009 Davidi joined with Burat to piece together the hundreds of tapes of footage filmed and aid in creating a script of narration. You see the urgency with each new camera, but Davidi’s guidance and Véronique Lagoarde–Ségot editing tie it together tightly. Burat was already providing footage for Rueters and drawing increased international attention. But more importantly screening his edited video to other villages in the area that were and could be affected. Footage that was indeed included in 5 Broken Cameras. He raised awareness and incited unification and demonstration through his camera.

I feel that Burat never saw himself as a visionary to start, but he molds into one when tensions really started to rise a few years into the film. With his heath concerns and his wife telling him enough is enough, he pushed on saying “This is what I have to do. This is important.”

And yes it is.


I cannot say that I am either a film buff nor a critic, but I can counter by saying that I have viewed hundreds of films from various eras and countries and know what I like and not so much. Thus my reviews may be a bit biased, but a critique should be subjective, no?

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

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