At the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York City, Israeli activist/filmmaker Guy Davidi spoke about his highly charged documentary, 5 Broken Cameras.
Photographed in the Palestinian village of Bil’in by first-time feature director Emad Burnat, the documentary spans the course of five years and five cameras, all of which were destroyed during production of the film.
Davidi met Burnat in 2005 when he visited Bil’in and stayed for a number of months. During this time he saw that Burnat filmed everything “with the idea that he would post the footage on YouTube”. They became what Davidi refers to as “friends of the night, filming together. Everybody knew Emad,” he says. “He could shoot footage that other people couldn’t. He became a quite important figure in the village.”
Initially, Burnat had no intention of transforming his footage into a film, but in 2009 he contacted Davidi and asked for his help.
“I wasn’t convinced it was possible to make a film because it was a subject that was really well known, in Israel at least," Davidi said. "I thought that if we could tell the story in a very personal way, from his point of view, with his voice over — if we tried to connect everything that happened in Bil’in to his personal life, then we would have a new way to tell the story. I didn’t know if the footage would allow us that.”
After looking at the five years of footage, Davidi became convinced there was a story to tell. He then proceeded to construct the film.
Davidi relates the importance of having an “outsider” examine the footage. He stresses that it was of no consequence that Burnat was Palestinian and he Israeli. “It was completely organic,” he says.
It was a collaboration that was indeed vital in the transformation of Burant’s raw footage into a feature film. Israeli television, as well as a number of international sources, provided the funding for the film, while Davidi and his Israeli activist peers provided money for Burnat to continue shooting and replace his cameras as each one was destroyed. In the Q&A, Davidi also revealed it was he, not Burant, who wrote the personal voice over. Others provided additional footage.
These factors, essential to the production of the 5 Broken Cameras, are not mentioned in the film. What is shown is one perspective – a highly underrepresented point of view, and one that needs to be heard.
This is documentary as a tool of resistance, constructed to affect its audience in an entirely emotional way. To this end, it is highly successful. The film won a Special Jury and an Audience Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), where it debuted, and the Cinema Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. But one questions its transparency. When watching the film, filled with exceptionally powerful images of innocent children and menacing guards, I would have liked more specific context, political and sociological. More details.
As Davidi discussed in the Q&A: “Palestinians are completely dependent on support coming from the outside. There is a lot of criticism because by giving money you are actually supporting the situation. If there were not support for the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross there would be a humanitarian crisis in many places, in Gaza especially. There is a claim to let the crisis happen. To force Israel to face its responsibility”.
Yet, 5 Broken Cameras is an example of resistance from within, aided by Israel. It is an example of the heterogeneity of Israel, a complexity not revealed in the film. After watching the film and listening to Davidi, I became convinced that transparency about this context could have significantly contributed to Burnat’s brave memoir. While the story may be deeply familiar to an Israeli audience, the number of questions that require informed answers about policy, politics and religion that emerged at the New York talk is testament to how little detail is truly known in the wider, global context.
It reveals how much people want to know about this devastating situation, as told by those directly involved.
5 Broken Cameras will screen at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July.
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