Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. 14A. 90 min. Opens June 22.
As its title suggests, 5 Broken Cameras is a documentary that bears the scars of its own production. Over the course of six years, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer in the tiny West Bank outpost of Bil’in, went through a quintet of digital camcorders to record the fallout of a security barrier erected in his village by Israeli army forces. Suffice it to say that Burnat’s frequent need to replace his equipment didn’t have to do with poor battery life or a desire to keep up with the latest technological trends.
5 Broken Cameras has been assembled out of more than 700 hours of footage by Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, which makes it first and foremost an impressive act of dramatic compression. Burnat’s personal journey from amateur videographer (his initial plan was to document the birth of his fourth son) to hardened DIY journalist is carefully paced and compelling stuff—it’s like watching a personal video diary morph into a social panorama. And, as the film goes on, Burnat and Davidi start to weave in footage from other videographers of clashes between protestors and soldiers—locally sourced images that come to stand in for a larger and endlessly enduring conflict.
Ultimately, the agenda here is less political than it is formal. It’s not a film about the Israel-Palestinian conflict but one about the persistence of vision—the desire to keep an eye on what’s happening around you. And it’s also a reminder that, for all that cultural theorists say about the “mediatization” of our world, a camera doesn’t really keep anything at arm’s length: It’s a tool, but it’s not a shield.