RAMALLAH, January 23 (JMCC) - Emad Burnat lost five cameras while documenting his life in the West Bank village of Bilin, where residents waged a successful battle to reclaim land from Israel's occupation. The equipment was broken by soldiers and settlers and in the course of filming weekly demonstrations and raids by the Israeli military.
Now Burnat's film Five Broken Cameras has already won two awards and is competing this week at the Sundance film festival, the New York Times reports
The new documentary intersperses scenes of villagers fighting the barrier with Mr. Burnat’s son Gibreel’s first words (“cartridge,” “army”), undercover Israeli agents taking away friends and relatives, and Mr. Burnat’s wife, Soraya, begging him to turn his attention away from politics and be with his family. Over six years, Mr. Burnat went through five cameras, each broken in the course of filming — among other things, by soldiers’ bullets and an angry settler. At the start of the film, Mr. Burnat lines up the cameras on a table. They form the movie’s chapters and create a motif for the unfolding drama — the power of bearing witness. Mr. Burnat never puts his camera down and it drives his opponents mad.
“Tell him if he keeps filming I will break his bones!” a settler declares to a soldier. Mr. Burnat keeps filming. The settler approaches him and, as the camera rolls, throws it to the ground, breaking it. The screen goes blank.
“When I film, I feel like the camera protects me,” Mr. Burnat says in his soft-voiced narration of the movie, making a point familiar to all journalists. “But it is an illusion.”
In one scene, soldiers come to Mr. Burnat’s house (“Now it’s my turn,” he says into the camera) to arrest him on charges of throwing stones and assaulting a soldier — charges he denied and of which he was later exonerated, according to an army spokesman. He films the soldiers’ entry into his house and their surreal assertion that he must turn off his camera because he is in a “closed military area.” “I am in my own home,” he replies. He spends three weeks in prison and six weeks under house arrest. It takes three years for the case to be dismissed.
“It was a very difficult decision to make such a personal film,” Mr. Burnat, 40, said as he sat in the garden of his home. Gibreel, now 6, and his older sons were wandering in and out, and the high-rises of the Modiin Illit settlement could be seen in the distance. “I was uncomfortable about showing footage of my wife. This may be normal in Europe, but here in Palestine you have to answer many questions. I have so far avoided showing the film here.”
Mr. Davidi, the 33-year-old Israeli co-director, first came to Bilin in 2005 to shoot a documentary on Palestinian workers who take construction jobs in the settlement, and he met Mr. Burnat then. “We wanted our film to be an understatement, not to be provocative or combative,” Mr. Davidi said.
The movie’s personal style is not the only issue bringing Mr. Burnat heat. Working with an Israeli filmmaker and taking help from Greenhouse have been controversial. The Palestinian movement increasingly promotes a boycott of all things Israeli on the theory that contact serves to “normalize” relations that should be frozen until progress is made on ending the occupation.
“When we showed the film in Amsterdam, Palestinians and other Arabs came up to me and asked how I could work with Israelis,” Mr. Burnat said. “But from the start, the struggle for Bilin involved Israeli activists.”