Monday 18 December 2017

Film Review: 5 Broken Cameras

(Club, IFI, 94 minutes) Director: Guy Davidi, Emad Burnat Stars: Emad Burnat

Paul Whitington

I've always had an instinctive sympathy for the state of Israel, a nation born from the poisonous soil of the Holocaust and surrounded since its inception by neighbours dedicated to its destruction.

However, that sympathy was sorely tested while watching 5 Broken Cameras, a disarming amateur documentary that's part agitprop, part a personal diary of family life in a blighted and war-torn patch of land abutting the Dead Sea.

In 2005, to mark the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, West Bank villager Emad Burnat was given a video camera.

He imagined he'd use it to record birthdays and other family moments, but instead it bore witness to the protests and violence that subsequently engulfed his village of Bilin.

The aggressive and not entirely legal encroachments of Jewish settlers reached a climax in Bilin when the Israeli army began constructing a barrier between the village and a settlement.

Outraged as their olive groves and ancestral lands were bulldozed by the military and burned by settlers, the townsfolk of Bilin began organising weekly protests, which were suppressed with casual brutality by the army.

Emad and his camera were there to record it all. Or rather his cameras, because in the six years it took to compile this affecting film he went through five of them, all either shot or smashed by Israeli soldiers.

That wasn't all that got broken. As tensions escalated between the villagers and the staggeringly arrogant fundamentalist Jewish settlers, the army moved in to confront protesters, and began sweeping into Bilin at night and arresting children.

Emad captured footage of troops deliberately shooting a friend of his in the leg.

It seemed only a matter of time before villagers started dying, and so it ultimately proved.

Cinematically speaking, there's nothing particularly special about 5 Broken Cameras, a film compiled in the most difficult of circumstances and edited by Emad Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi. But its simple style and honesty of intention make it an absolutely compelling insight into the disastrous impasse on the West Bank, a running sore that, along with Gaza, fatally undermines Israel's moral authority.

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