DVD Review - 5 Broken Cameras

Emad Burnat in "5 Broken Cameras"
Emad Burnat filmed this documentary himself with some help from Guy Davidi. In some instances, you understand why, but it's mostly Burnat doing all the recording on his handheld, digital camera. Burnat is Palestinian. He lives with his wife and children inside the West Bank. He's an olive farmer making whatever money he can in the desert area.

Burnat started filming his experiences in the winter of 2005 when his fourth child named Gibreel was born. The movie follows his weekly, if not daily, recordings with his camera over the course of five years or so. Most people would simply document their child growing up, filming only birthdays and special occasions.

Burnat does the same, but those things are incidental to what's really catching his camera's attention. Burnat is more interested in filming the Palestinian protests to the Israeli settlements that were encroaching on what was seen as Palestinian land. The protests are so intense that at times they result in people dying. The Palestinians throw rocks at the Israeli soldiers and the soldiers shoot at them with rifles. Burnat himself gets shot but on several occasions his camera is the thing that gets damaged. Burnat has to get new cameras, but, as the title implies, he ends up with five broken ones.

5 Broken Cameras was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. This followed it winning the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. As a testament to these Palestinian protests, the injustices and horrors, it's understandable why this movie got such acclaim. The Palestinian protesters wanted to hold non-violent protests. They ended up doing things that seemed aggressive, but the Israeli response was seemingly over-the-top.

This movie is also a good example of this phenomenon that with the rise of digital technology and small, lightweight, easy-to-use cameras, people are obsessively recording their lives. Burnat has his reasons for taking a camera into what's essentially a war zone, even when he shouldn't. It's dangerous on multiple levels. Yet, he still does it. His drive to do so is captivating on its own, but clearly Burnat is not a trained or skilled filmmaker.

I appreciate his bravery and/or stupidity in capturing what he does with his series of broken or shot cameras, but, as a movie, his documentary is not well-constructed. Obviously, the context is tilted to portray the Israelis as the bad guys or the evil antagonists, which in certain moments here I could be convinced like when children are taken from homes or killed in conflicts, but a broader context would have helped.

The way this movie is edited, one could believe that the village in which Burnat and his family lives is constantly under siege. Burnat's narration would indicate that growing up in this siege is going to dramatically affect his son Gibreel and his outlook or spirit. Yet, we see Gibreel and other Palestinian children wearing hoodies and clothes you'd see children in America wearing. We also see Gibreel watching cable or satellite television, and it calls into question how affected this little boy really will be. It also calls into question how horrible life is for these Palestinians. No doubt, these particular Palestinians are poor, but Burnat doesn't paint a picture of daily life for his fellow villagers that begs for me to take pity on them.

Burnat shows a trailer being moved into a place and then in a quick edit shows that same trailer, which is the size of a large shed or garage, being removed. In reality, it would have taken a day or two for those events to happen. It could have occurred quickly, but Burnat brushes by it, which is I think a good example of how he handles things in this movie.

I'm not saying that Burnat needed to give the Israeli point-of-view in this film, but Burnat highlights the fact that people get killed. He name-drops a couple of them, but that's essentially all he does. For all of them, there's not much we learn beside they were present at the protests. We learn a dead person's nickname and a few details, but this movie is more about the protests than it is the people in them. When deaths go down at the protests, I had not much emotion, aside from shock when it came to one or two.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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