The self-taught filmmaker behind the documentary "5 Broken Cameras" says he uses the lens "to hold onto my memories." For the Palestinian resident of the occupied West Bank, those memories involve not just family milestones but daily political struggle.
Emad Burnat first got a camera in 2005 to film his newborn fourth son, Gibreel, and neighborhood activities in the village of Bil'in. Those activities included, with increasing frequency, demonstrations against Israel-erected barriers and the encroachment of Jewish settlements. The villagers were joined by Israeli activists — one of whom, filmmaker Guy Davidi, became Burnat's co-director — as well as international sympathizers and the inevitable grandstanding politicians.
There's no separating the resistance and skirmishes from day-to-day life; one of Gibreel's first words is "army." As Bil'in's chief chronicler, Burnat documents the confrontations between soldiers and nonviolent protesters, the arrests of one after another of his brothers, his own house arrest and the shooting death of a friend. Each time his camera succumbs to gas grenades or bullets, another, sometimes a hand-me-down from a neighbor, takes its place and keeps his journalistic enterprise going.
As raw as the material of "5 Broken Cameras" can be, it is also lyrical and elegiac. Burnat's voiceover comments, with their direct philosophical simplicity, enhance the footage. His reportage might not be groundbreaking, but the immediacy with which it bears witness to injustice is powerful and affecting, as are the images of joy he captures amid the burning olive trees.