by Ritika Rao
A phenomenal juxtaposition of two sides of the spectrum, Five Broken Cameras exposes a segment of political activism concurrent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along side the life of Emad Burnat’s family. We’re also taken through the lives of Emad’s cameras one by one where we experience non-violent activism in a West Bank Village, called Bil’in, that is being threatened by infringing Israeli settlements.
Emad, a Palestinian farmer, bought his first camera to record his youngest son’s birth, but ended up filming a lot more. He found his calling and labeled each camera thereon as an “episode” of his life. On the political front, we go through the struggle from the very beginning. There is a clear-cut opening when workers measure the lands to get separated. When the bulldozers started to come in, the real discontent was triggered in the people of BIl’in. We see the progression of the community, the expansion of supporters and the several tactics used by the Israelis in order to crack the solidarity of the people.
Typically, we would find that there would only be one side to the story, the politically active one, in this case. We are usually left completely unaware of what’s going on elsewhere, what each individual protesting is going through. Through Five Broken Cameras, we get a spectacular perspective of the progression of the activism as well as the childhood of Emad’s son, Gibreel. Emad creates a sense of entirety by showing the protests, tear gas attacks and arrests and then transitioning to Gibreel pronouncing his first words. As Bil’in becomes a popular symbol of resistance and one of Emad’s brothers gets arrested, we become aware of Gibreel celebrating his third birthday and more; this is what makes Five Broken Cameras different.
Emad builds up a certain type of awareness-that during these problems with society and under all the blankets of protests, there are still glints of innocence in the world. There are events, other than those of fights and remonstrations, that are happening to so many families and there are children who have childhoods that last shorter than others’ because of the constant need to be conscious of their surroundings in order to survive the future. He watches several atrocities from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and protests intensify. “I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”