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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Land, Lots of Land under Starry Skies Above
by Donald Levit

Audience at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center screening of 5 Broken Cameras was overwhelmingly pro-, unexpectedly so in light of polemic surrounding the Academy Award nominee. At the following Q&A, Israeli Guy Davidi categorized the difficult but necessary ninety minutes as one of the few documentaries to ask his coreligionist countrymen to be low-key in order that the thrust fall on Palestinians like his co-director, Emad Burnat.

Both men plan to attend in LA on February 24 but believe that Oscar attention has already gone some way towards the goal of getting this work and viewpoint into the educational system and onto commercial screens back home – both difficult nuts to crack.

Burnat is a West Bank farmer who in person looks too hardy to be disabled from physical labor at forty-one, a result of crashing his vehicle into the separation fence, for which he was treated in Israel’s better (and expensive) hospital system. More than or in addition to being a non-fiction, he emphasized, the film is a piece of life -- his own and those of his family and Bil’in townspeople -- told from a personal perspective.

His voiceover in subtitled Arabic narrating, he became the “village photojournalist” by default. In fall 2005 Gibreel became his and Brazilian-raised wife Soraya’s fourth son, and with his first motion camera Emad set in to record family life and most particularly the boy’s development. Along with blood relations, he could scarcely help including friends and neighbors in the hamlet of 1100, and prospective opponents.

The five years’ taped record coincides with encroaching development, debated in Israel but a physical fact as earthmovers and construction machinery transform the landscape. Roads and settlers’ housing mushroom where formerly olive trees flourished, and a chain-link separation fence is erected.

Villagers march on Fridays in non-violent protest, Israeli soldiers patrol to protect their own and enforce the separation, Humvees prowl, and tensions, taunting, rocks, tear-gas grenades, rubber and real bullets fill the air. The movement sparks demonstrations of protest and solidarity in other menaced villages.

The photographer’s friends Adeeb and Bassem (the latter nicknamed “Phil” or “El Phil,” “Elephant”) emerge as unofficial leaders against the land-grab Occupation, but brothers and fathers and all are drawn in and affected. There are no apologies for presenting a point of view here, just as Wall/Mur, Tears of Gaza and compatriot Oscar contender The Gatekeepers are also more one-sided than related black-humor fiction features like Rana’s Weddings and the semi-autobiographical work of Elia Suleiman.

Passions run high, all kinds of projectiles fly, men of goodwill are injured, arrested, killed, and, without smash his camera orders, recording devices may get in the way and be broken and destroyed. Emad’s five are one by one hit and rendered inoperable, kept to be lined up on a table, printed titles proclaiming lifespan and dates of service. One of them likely saves his life, taking a bullet with his name on it.

Soldiers single him out at times to insist he stop filming confrontations, and his home is invaded at night, confiscated and declared off-limits. Soraya has had enough and wants him to stop, too, for the sake of the loved ones. One wonders who records the scenes such as this, when he himself appears onscreen. In any case, he continues to record his surroundings, including his sons as they run in the surf at Tel Aviv where Daddy is treated after his accident. Gibreel is now old enough to chalk on the concrete wall that replaces the wire one, among the children who are the future, who will bear the scars, remember, and carry on the divide or heal it.

Activist and experienced filmmaker Davidi had joined other outsiders in support of the Bil’in protesters, when Emad approached him for professional editorial help to create a coherent continuous story out of so much footage covering so many events. Along with its theatrical and institutional showings, their co-authored 5BC is included in the “MoMA Selects: POV” silver anniversary salute to the PBS documentary series within the Museum’s own “Documentary Fortnight 2013” showcase.

(Released by Kino Lorber; not rated by MPAA.)

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