This week in movies you missed: an Oscar-nominated documentary shows us life as a Palestinian in the West Bank.
What You Missed
Emad Burnat bought his first camera in 2005 to film his just-born fourth son. That same year, his village of Bil’in was divided by the Israeli West Bank Barrier, which cut off the townspeople from some of their ancestral agricultural lands.
Over the ensuing four years, the Palestinian farmer would have four more cameras. Each was shot, smashed or otherwise damaged in the clashes between Israeli soldiers and protestors at the barrier. Burnat filmed arrests and shootings of his good friends. He also recorded the effects of growing up in this turmoil on his son, Gibreel.
Finally, he brought his footage to Guy Davidi, a fellow protestor, Israeli citizen and filmmaker. Davidi edited the film and wrote a voiceover (with Burnat’s input) that ties the events together, using the five cameras to represent five years of violence.
Why You Missed It
You can still see 5 Broken Cameras on the big screen later this month at the Green Mountain Film Festival: click here for info.
Should You Keep Missing It?
5 Broken Cameras has evoked strong reactions from those on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An organization called Consensus has asked the Israeli Attorney General to charge the filmmakers with slander, based on complaints from Israeli soldiers who appear in the film and say its editing creates a false impression. Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat suggested that filmmakers should practice “self-censorship” when depicting the West Bank conflict, prompting this counterpoint in Haaretz. And here’s Davidi reacting to the slander claims on HuffPost Live.
As viewers without direct experience, it’s hard for us to say how accurate or fair a given documentary is. We can only judge what’s on the screen. As a film, 5 Broken Cameras is powerful: first, because it’s visceral, not preachy; and second, because it conveys the Palestinian perspective on a grass-roots, common-man level.
Rather than talking politics and ideology, Burnat simply asks us to imagine how we would feel if someone plunked a big fence down in our town and started building houses on the other side. And how it would feel to watch our kid grow up seeing soldiers aim guns at the adults he respected, or carry them off in handcuffs. That's the kind of situation that makes even apolitical types into protestors.
The film is clearly a subjective document: one man’s view through five cameras. It doesn’t represent the soldiers’ perspectives, which might be interesting. (They don’t look especially happy about what they have to do.) It doesn’t represent the settlers’ perspectives. But it does paint vivid portraits of the protestors; they come across as people with their own motivations, not saints or symbols.
More than any news report or editorial, 5 Broken Cameras made the Palestinian conflict feel concrete and immediate to me, and made me want to know more about it — yes, including the other perspectives. That’s what a documentary should do.
Verdict: See it.
More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs
Smashed (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul struggle with alcoholism in this well-reviewed drama.)
This Is Not a Film (This portrait of an Iranian director banned from filmmaking was made on an iPhone and smuggled out of the country in a cake.)
This Must Be the Place (Sean Penn dons Robert Smith makeup to play a fictional former rock star.)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)