|Five Broken Cameras, a Village against an army by Emad Burnat et Guy David : (Photo credit: ☪yrl)|
Last night at my local movie house, Cinema du Parc, in Montreal, I saw one of those gritty amateur documentaries that sometimes tell us much more than the smooth, professional effort. The movie --- Five Broken Cameras ----was about the daily life of a Palestinian village, Bi’lin on the West Bank, and its struggle to oppose the brutal occupation of their lands, the theft of their lands to give it its correct name, by the Israeli army and settlers.
The documentary was shot by an ordinary Palestinian peasant, as he described himself, Emad Burnat, who had no intention of making a film, but when he was given a camera started to shoot what was happening to him and his family. He went on filming against all discouragements, for more than five years, recording the arrival of the Separation Wall, built on his family’s land, the burning of his family’s olive trees from which they had always made their living, the birth of his youngest son, and the slow development of this child into what seems likely to become another irreconcilable Palestinian “terrorist” filled with hatred for the Israelis, as he watched his father being beaten, injured, his uncles and other role models killed, by a group of ever-changing soldiers who responded to every challenge with volleys of stun gun fire, tear gas canisters, and live ammunition.
This film allowed us to see the destruction of a way of life by the arrival of bulldozers, clearing the land that once was productive for a village of peasants, clearing it to make way for apartments for settlers from abroad, or wherever they came from. Eventually, the soldiers realized they should not permit this sort of thing to be photograhed, warned the intrepid peasant cameraman that he could suffer the same fate as some of his friends (dead) if he continued to film, and finally directed violent assault against his camera.
This happened five times --- five separate cameras smashed, replaced, and smashed again , until the film ends as a sixth camera swings into action to keep going.
Meantime, as pressure mounts against the cameraman, he records the pleadings of his extremely sympathetic wife to “for God’s sake stop this filming. I can’t take any more of it,” she said. “Can’t you stop it, and find something else to do?” Her husband is on the point of arrest and imprisonment. “What are we going to do when you are gone, me and the kids?” she pleaded.
But this filming had got under the skin of this peasant, and he couldn’t stop, even if commonsense told him he would be safer to do so.
This is the kind of film of which one says, “Everyone should see it.”
It is encouraging to record that many Israeli names were attached to the credits in the making of the completed 90 minute film, prominent among them being the co-director Guy Davidi.
But that is almost the only encouraging thing about this harrowing film. I was left with a terrible sense of the futility of it all. Here documented before our eyes was a monstrous act of theft, and one that is not only permitted by the leaders of the Western world, but is actually enabled by them through the use of Western-produced armaments.
Part of the futility came from the extremely barren nature of the land, which looked like the only thing it could grow were the olive trees through which these peasants have for centuries eked out their precarious existence. The only criticism I could make of the film was that it left us wondering how these people kept going, what were they eating, what did they do for money, how did they keep at it through these terrible five years? We could have done with more information on that context of their lives.
And as for everyone seeing it. In the same cinema immediately before it was screened a packed audience was present to watch a film of the best advertisements of the year. Packed --- standing room only, extra chairs needed to accommodate the public interest.
But for “Five Broken Cameras,” immediately after, there were just ten of us. Part of the sense of futility I was left with came from the evident fact that these peasants in their struggle for justice cannot depend on the world that calls itself democratic to help them in their struggle.