Friday, February 22, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—5 Broken Cameras (2012) ****

NR, 94 min.
Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
Narrator: Emad Burnat
Featuring: Emad Burnat, Soraya Burnat, Gibreel Burnat, Bassem Abu-Rahma (Phil), Adeeb Abu-Rahma, Ashraf Abu-Rahma (Daba)

I’ll admit right here that I don’t understand the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I’ve never understood it, and I don’t have any stake in it beyond the fact that I inhabit the same planet of intolerance that fuels it. I will offer, however, that it has always seemed to me that Israel is the bully in this. They’ve always seemed better organized with a stronger system of support behind them. Both sides are guilty of horrible atrocities inflicted on the other. No side is guiltless in this conflict that is more likely a reflection of two governing bodies with utter intolerance for the other’s existence than it is reflective of the people of their lands. The Palestinian and Israeli civilians seem to wish for peace as much as all of the free world. Perhaps, I have no right to hold these opinions, but there they are.

The Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras” tells the story of a peaceful resistance against the illegal seizure of Palestinian farmlands by Israeli “settlers” from a first person point of view. Emad Burnat shot the footage over a period of five years with five different cameras. This period of time is filled with important events for the man marked by the cameras’ lives and the first years of his youngest son’s life.

Emad gets a camera to document his new son’s life. Soon after Israeli soldiers begin to erect a fence across the farmer’s land, just inside the West Bank, as construction crews build settlement high rises on the land that was once, and legally still belongs to the farmers of Bil’in. As protests begin, Emad feels compelled to use his camera to record the events. It becomes his life calling and a symbol of protest in itself.

“5 Broken Cameras” is nothing like any of the other Oscar-nominated documentaries this year. It doesn’t consist of investigation and interviews. It merely observes the events in Bil’in. I suppose you could say it participates in them too. It leaves many questions about how things come about and why, but the fact that it doesn’t investigate its mysteries helps fuel its power. These aren’t journalists trying to get a crack at the truth. These are people living their lives in the way they feel they must to survive. The camera is on the front line here, and these aren’t soldiers, but farmers, citizens trying to retain their rights. It is powerful and shocking.

Over the past week, the U.S. Immigration officials at LAX detained Emad and his family on their way to the Oscars on a flight from Turkey. The officers didn’t believe he’d been nominated for an Academy Award and wanted proof. Documentarian Michael Moore sprang to the Burnats’ rescue before the Academy even had time to get involved. For anyone who has seen the movie, it can be assumed that an hour and a half at LAX was like the pre-cruise social before a much needed vacation for these people. 

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