The personal and political are intertwined tightly in war documentary ‘5 Broken Cameras’

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A documentary co-directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli is a good enough reason alone to watch it. Its humanistic, anti-authoritarian stand is another. What truly stands out about 5 Broken Cameras is the manner in which the voice, mind, heart, soul and point of view of the person behind the camera, becomes the most compelling presence. That is, without quite being there on screen for long.

The film is about the rough and tumble of Emad Burnat’s (also the co-director) life. Protests in his hometown Bil’in in the West Bank grow as their agricultural land and olive groves start getting run over by ever expanding Israeli settlements. His five cameras — one of which he had bought for capturing the birth and early years of his youngest son Gibreel — also bear the brunt of the brutality (and concomitant) resistance that they capture.

From the very start you begin hanging on to Burnat’s lovely words that reveal his profundity of thought. He films to hold on to the memories: in which pain alternates with joy and fear with hope even as old wounds get layered by new ones. The personal and political are never separated but intertwined tightly. Each birth of his four sons, marks a different phase in their life as well as that of Palestine. And each of the kids has experienced a different childhood from the other. The first son was born in 1995 in the times of relative peace when they could go to sea. When the third came there were the dead and the wounded in the hospital he was born in. Gibreel is born at the time of barriers and of Israeli settlements closing in. No wonder then, Gibreel’s first two words on turning one are ‘wall’ and ‘cartridge’.

From filming special family events to the societal, political incidents, Burnat transitions into an inadvertent filmmaker. There is the personal, familial visual diary he builds through his images, the very fond character sketches of his friend Adeeb and Phil. There is the former’s endurance and the latter’s spirit and the zest for life they share in common. They are also the significant players in Burnat’s diligent chronicling of the political demonstrations. Burnat’s cameras become the site where the cinematic, personal and political all come together. In filming resistance, they also become an ally and tool of protest and also end up facing the wrathful consequences of it.

There is a line in the film where Burnat talks of why people respond with ease to Phil. It’s because of a certain guilelessness and innocence and positivity. Says Burnat: “Hope is not easy to find in adults.” Neither can you deep dive for it in Bil’in. And yet, you are still left feeling an overwhelming admiration for the people who are still chipping away at their despair.

The film is currently streaming free of charge in the Visiting Room of the Dharamshala International Film Festival website

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