5 Broken Cameras, a film by Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi

5 Broken Cameras is a moving work and true story set in the village of Bil’in west of Ramallah city in the central West Bank. In 2005 planned Israeli building constructions were set to encroach the village’s cultivated land for which its inhabitants begun to resist peacefully.

Meanwhile, one of the villagers and self-taught cameraman Emad Burnat starts to film this peaceful movement, which is led by his two best friends Adeed and Phil, alongside his son’s growth who was born in the same year. But without much hope for the villagers’ voice to be heard, Israeli and International peace activists soon start to join them.

The events begin to threat Burnat’s family and friends and he ends up having his camera and every consecutive replacement he finds smashed and damaged by the army through daily arrests and night raids. Burnat finally meets Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi and together they bring the history of this Palestinian story to light.

At the announcement of the 2013 Academy Award (Oscar) nominations, Emad Burnat’s & Guy Davidi’s notable success with their involving documentary 5 Broken Cameras is competing for Best Documentary Feature.

Guest Editor|Georgia Korossi – writer & curator based in London & Athens

Guy Davidi tells Georgia Korossi how this film started:

REVma -/+: 5 Broken Cameras is a very powerful and emotional piece of filmmaking. Now, it was never your original intention to set out to make a documentary, is that correct?
G.D.: I had an idea to make a personal film that will tell Emad’s narrative. I knew about his arrests, his cameras and his accident and I knew a lot of his brothers were arrested and sent to jail but I wasn’t sure how much of this is documented and can be used and also what will Emad think of that idea. So when I saw the first tapes of rushes, I saw this image of an old man blocking the jeep from taking someone to prison. I was interested to know who was this man and discovered it was Emad’s father. I tried to imagine how Emad felt at that moment when he filmed his parents and I thought it was a good reason to make a new film. Emad agreed to focus on himself and gave me the freedom to edit by myself and write the texts. We had a first month of working together in Bil’in and during that time we had a lot of conversation from which the texts were written. I think the narration is the outcome of Emad’s very direct, melancholic, somewhat flat tone and my reflections in an emotional – poetic style.

REVma -/+: How did you two first meet?
G.D.: Me and Emad knew each other since 2005. I came with the first activists to Bil’in and started making short films. The people of the village were so warm so I decided to make a feature-length documentary, that will focus more on the village and less on the non-violent movement which was already documented by Shai Carmeli Pollack for a film that was released in 2006, Bil’in My Love. My film, Interrupted Streams focused on a less known element of the occupation, the water. In order to do it I stayed with Alexandre Goetschmann, the Swiss co-director, for three months in Bil’in. In that period of time I got to know all the sentiments that come when living under occupation. I couldn’t have written the narration of 5 Broken Cameras without all the meetings and time spent in the village in that autumn of 2005.

In the nights soldiers were entering to the village to arrest kids. Every second night there was a knock on the door with a terrified voice “jesh, jesh” meaning soldiers, waking me and Alex up as we were to use our cameras to film the event and especially be present since I was the only Israeli in the village. I was shouting in Hebrew that there are Israelis. Luckily nothing happened. In the morning the military radio (which is one of the main radio stations in Israel) reported that there was a night demonstration in Bil’in with forty Israelis. It was only me.

Our presence was critical. As long as there were foreigners and especially Israelis the response of the army was more moderate. During this period I met Emad, he was the only camera man of the village filming in these nights. When other cameramen or journalists left, he was there to document. He became an important figure for the movement. He was supported by the other video-activists like me and Shai Carmeli Pollack and so many people sent him empty video tapes or helped with fundraising to repair his cameras. But only in 2009 Emad approached me to do a film together. I think the amount of trust he gave in me was thanks to the deep understanding I had for the occupation after spending so much time in Bil’in. But it was also due to the amazing commitment of the Israeli activists who were committed to resist.

REVma -/+: How did the editing process take shape? With over seven years worth of filming, how much footage did you begin with?
G.D.: We had three editing phases. First of all we had a short period of building the first sequences which was made in Bil’in. Emad did not have permission to enter Israel. In this period we talked about the main ideas and narratives, I was looking at a lot of footage and Emad was doing the digitising. The second one took one year and a half and I was doing the editing in my house by myself. I met Emad a few times mainly to guide him to look for new footage and sometimes showing him sequences. During this period a rough cut was created and reedited. We attended an editing development seminar at the IDFA summer school during which the opening shot was our main focus. The film is based on seven years of filming with more than 700 tapes, 200 hours. The main challenge was to be able to show the repetitive effect of the movement, like the arrests, demos and cameras breaking. I think in order to do it we had the chance, thanks to the collaboration of French Producer Serge Gordey, to work with the great Editor Veronique Lagoarde Segot. In the last two months of editing in France, Veronique brought all her sensibilities to the film and helped us shape the story-telling, the sense of development and the right tone for every scene. We worked on the first 20 minutes of the film for more than half of the total time. The reason was to be able to give all the information and context needed for the rest of the film and at the same time preserve the tone and style trying never to be didactic and lecturing.

REVma -/+: What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects?
G.D.: My next project is called Mixed Feelings and it will be on an acting school in Tel Aviv and a teacher that teaches acting to the new Israeli generation. At one point in the film the Gaza war starts and that provokes a conflict between the students and the teacher that almost leads to the end of the school.