Review: 5 Broken Cameras

Still for the documentary '5 Broken Cameras' (Courtesy of Kinoe Lorber Films)

5 Broken Cameras is a difficult film to put into words. Clichés are clichés for a reason and as such, considering this is free both on Youtube and on Tubi, there is absolutely no reason not to watch this movie before reading this review. TL; DR It’s a beautiful piece of art, an absolute triumph of the struggle and a testament to the power of the medium. Please just watch it.

With that out of the way, the documentary Emad Burnat created here is quite literally a masterwork. Filmed on five cameras over the course of five years, the audience witnesses as Israeli settlers slowly form a colony outside the West Bank village of Bil’in. What follows is a grand political struggle between the villagers of the town and the Israeli Defense Forces/settlers. However, Burnat never intended for the project to become what it ended up as.

The first camera was purchased to document the birth of his fourth son. That same day, the settlers erected a fence on the town’s territory, claiming the land for the ever-growing settlement. Each camera he bought tells a different story and ends in a different way, one destroyed by a tear gas canister, others by bullets; each tells a tale of occupation and violence, struggle and joy.

As time goes on, Burnat begins to document everything. He begins with protests and as the days turn to weeks and then months, the village maintains its non-violent protests, sometimes joined by people from all over the world. However, as the resistance rises, so does the violence on behalf of the occupation.

Settlers throw gas grenades at children, kidnap children from their homes in the middle of the night, shoot and kill protesters, throw rocks at children, dig up and burn down olive trees, force people out of their homes, beat elderly women, and in one scene, and Israeli Occupying Forces officer points a gun at a toddler and smiles. All of this is captured on Burnat’s cameras. The audience becomes a witness to atrocity.

We watch as his fourth son, Gibreel, grows up amidst this destruction and we watch him lose his innocence as he asks his father why they can’t just kill the cruel occupiers. The film becomes surreal as scenes which would seem to only unfold in shoddy found on video flicks become all too painfully real as Burnat’s wife tells him to stop filming. Through his documentation of the struggle, he is putting his own family at risk.

The joys in 5 Broken Cameras do not come from the literal, physical resistance, but in the everyday acts of resistance. The community coming together to plan demonstrations, to celebrate birthdays, to warmly welcome those who are returning after being arrested for standing up to tyranny. Through the camera’s lens, it becomes clear that even these small moments of joy are just as important as the big ones.

5 Broken Cameras is almost impossible to talk about because nearly every frame is a painting. I do not mean this in the Kurosawan sense that each shot is beautiful on a cinematographic level, but in that every image there is so much depth, and in turn each image provides so much more context to the struggle, the horror, the beauty and the injustice of life under occupation.