Movie Review

5 Broken Cameras

5 Broken Cameras Movie Poster

US Release Date: 05-30-2012

Directed by: Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi


  • Emad Burnat
  • Himself
  • Soraya Burnat
  • Herself
  • Mohammed Burnat
  • Himself
  • Yasin Burnat
  • Himself
  • Taky-Adin Burnat
  • Himself
  • Gibreel Burnat
  • Himself
  • Bassem "Phil" Abu-Rahma
  • Himself
  • Adeeb Abu-Rahma
  • Himself
  • Ashraf Abu-Rahma
  • Himself
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: January 21st, 2013
Emad Burnat with his son, Gibreel, in 5 Broken Cameras.

Emad Burnat with his son, Gibreel, in 5 Broken Cameras.

When I think of documentaries, I tend to think of them as factual, impartial, historical records, much in the same way that the news is supposed to be. Of course, in reality most documentaries are the exact opposite. The good ones are factual, but more often than not, instead of being impartial, they are produced to make a specific point or show an issue from a point of view. Such is the case with 5 Broken Cameras, the Oscar nominated documentary from Palestine.

Emad Burnat is a Palestinian farmer from the village of Bil'in, in the West Bank very near to the border of Israel. When his fourth son was born in 2005, he was given a camera to record the event. Emad became obsessed with his camera and began recording other things, becoming the unofficial cameraman for his village. He began to record the weekly, non-violent demonstrations staged by his fellow villagers to protest the construction of a barricade by the Israeli army that cuts off over 60% of the village's farmland.

As the years go by, the clashes between the villagers and the military become more extreme and even deadly. When Emad's first camera is damaged during one of the protests, he acquires another one, eventually going through five different cameras in such a manner, as the title indicates. Each camera's “life” marks a sort of chapter in the story.

After the story of Bil'in gained international attention, Emad was approached by a Mediterranean film company with an offer for him to form a documentary out of his film footage. Emad in turn approached Israeli filmmaker, Guy Davidi, for help in editing and shaping a narrative for his film.

It was Davidi's idea to weave together the story of Bil'in's protests with personal footage of Emad's family. The film begins with the birth of Gibreel's youngest son and we see him grow along with the movement to get Israel to tear down their wall. It's a smart move as it makes the film much more personal. Rather than just a dry observation of events, the protestors are humanized. Emad is a family man and we get to know him and his friends.

Some of the narration, spoken by Emad, but written by Davidi, does come across a little heavy handed. It sounds very scripted and doesn't always ring true. Much better moments are created when Emad's camera records genuine conversations such as when his wife pleads with him to stop filming in fear that he will be arrested again and taken away permanently.

The personal point of view does give the film emotional resonance, but as someone who rarely follows the situation in the Middle East, I wouldn't have minded a little more historical perspective. Very little background is provided in the film. For example, the Gaza War of 2008 is mentioned, and although it's of paramount importance to the characters in the film, I had no knowledge of the details and none are provided.

By sticking to the personal point of view, we are shown the internal conflict of a country, but with universal appeal. Emad, his family, and their friends will be recognizable types to anyone who watches it. As a personal document it's a great success and even emotionally moving at times.

Reviewed on: January 28th, 2013
Protesters tear down a barricade in 5 Broken Cameras.

Protesters tear down a barricade in 5 Broken Cameras.

Like Scott, I was emotionally moved by this intimate look at life in a small Palestinian village. It is light years away from the life most Americans take for granted. This five year record of the nonviolent struggles of the villagers of Bil'in against the unlawful encroachment of their land by Israeli settlers takes you to the front lines of the movement.

As Scott wrote, interspersed with footage of protesters facing down armed Israeli soldiers there are many shots of Emad Burnat's family. His wife worries about her husband's constant filming and with good reason as he gets arrested and spends time in an Israeli jail. His four sons are shown innocently playing childhood games, with special emphasis on his youngest boy, Gibreel, whose birth inspired his father to first pick up a camera.

Although the story is a bit one-sided, it is understandably so. I'm sure Emad would have welcomed any rational response from the opposing side but of course the people illegally confiscating the land his village relies on for sustenance would not want to talk openly about this. They hide behind the soldiers. In one scene settlers light several olive trees on fire as revenge for the villagers continuous protests.

But this isn't just a Jew against Muslim issue as the presence of many Israelis in the protest proves. No matter what your views on the Middle-East peace process (or lack thereof), it is impossible not to commiserate with these poor villagers in their struggle against the wealthy and well-protected settlers.

I'll admit (like Scott) I don't follow events in the region all that closely. As my brother said, 5 Broken Cameras doesn't provide background information about the age-old Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But honestly that isn't all that important. This documentary succeeds as propaganda.  It presents the troubles of this one small village and how the lives of its citizens are threatened by the expanding Israeli settlements. It does so in a brutally honest and incredibly intimate manner. We identify with the villagers of Bil'in against the armed forces of oppression they are up against.

Emad Burnat has a natural talent for filming. Whether focusing his lens on the everyday life of his village or risking his personal safety to film Israeli soldiers threatening his unarmed friends as they protest, he shows a great eye for the camera. 5 Broken Cameras is a fascinating historical record of one family and one village's struggle against oppression.

Reviewed on: January 29th, 2013
Israeli soldiers do not make policies, they just enforce them.

Israeli soldiers do not make policies, they just enforce them.

I agree completely with Scott on the point that most documentaries are produced to make a specific point or show an issue from a point of view. As a result of this film's one sided opinion, people such as Patrick wrote of the, "...nonviolent struggles of the villagers of Bil'in against the unlawful encroachment of their land by Israeli settlers..."  After all, Emad portrays the Palestinian protests as peaceful.

Of course there is another side to this issue. Hen Mazzig, who was an Israeli soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces at the protests for the fence, wrote a blog about this film. "From personal experience, I knew that the provocations and violence that forced the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) to act were omitted." He wrote of himself being pushed to the ground while a fellow Israeli soldier's jaw was broken by a rock thrown by a Palestinian protestor.

5 Broken Cameras is filled with obvious moments of bias. At one point, Emad filmed a Palestinian yelling to the Israeli soldiers about peace, then the film cuts to the Israeli soldiers charging the Palestinians, throwing smoke bombs. It really seems that something was edited out of that sequence. Nothing the Palestinians are shown doing at that point warrant such action by the soldiers. Later, he films and narrates that some Israeli soldiers take a Palestinian and purposely shoot him in the leg. Even later, a man named Phil is shot and killed. Emad filmed his body as his soul escaped, but not why Phil drew their fire. Emad never gives any back story as to why the soldiers act harshly.

Emad makes it seem as if the Israeli soldiers do everything out of sheer cruelty alone. At one point we are shown that there are lots of journalists and photographers documenting the protests. Are we expected to believe that the Israeli soldiers are acting as irrational and heartless as Emad implies they are, when they know their actions are being recorded and possibly broadcast all over the world? 

As both my brothers wrote, the inclusion of family footage puts a very human and relatable face to the Palestinian plight. No matter what your political opinion or where you stand on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, you will come to like Emad and feel for him as he sees his world threatened. His recording of this threat is his passion, and we feel it. His camera is a more powerful weapon than any gun. Several of his cameras even take bullets for him.

5 Broken Cameras is an interesting view into a family's struggles and one man's mission to record it and the changing world they live in.  It is not politically informative as all we get is his one opinion. Clearly there were reasons for the fence and wall to be built, but this film never even suggests one. Emad should become a professional camera man. That would provide his family with an income, as well as give him the chance to travel and experience other cultures and opinions, just as his film has done for it's viewers.  

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