Culture | 5 broken cameras and 1 Cinema Politica

Palestinian nonviolent resistance in documentary form

Cinema Politica McGill is one of the many campus branches of Cinema Politica, a Montreal-based non-profit network that advocates the screening of independent and alternative political documentaries, the likes of which you won’t see on prime-time television.

This year signifies a fresh start for the McGill division. Equipped with a new and enthusiastic team, Cinema Politica McGill is determined to be bigger and better than ever before – a “revival,” according to the organizers. This year, in addition to weekly screenings, Cinema Politica McGill will be co-hosting a series of events with, for example, Amnesty International, Oxfam, and the McGill chapter of Journalists for Human Rights. The team has also been in talks with the Cinema Politica network: they are hoping to invite directors to speak about their work in person.

The first screening of the year was 5 Broken Cameras (2011), a compelling documentary about Palestinian non-violent resistance in the West Bank. The Cinema Politica McGill team chose this documentary specifically due to its emotive nature: they wanted to cover a current, relatable issue. “Everyone ought to know what’s happening, we hear a lot but not from this point of view. It’s an untouched subject,” explained the organizers. They hoped that the topic would attract a large audience. Armed with free popcorn and a musical performance (emphasized in the social media advertising the screening), Cinema Politica McGill hoped to draw in a wider audience.

The documentary chosen for this purpose was 5 Broken Cameras, the riveting first-hand account following the life of Emad Burnat, a farmer-turned-filmmaker residing with his family in the town of Bil’in. The film focuses heavily on Burnat’s children and their experiences growing up in the unstable, often violent environment of the West Bank. As the Israeli army is fencing in the town of Bil’in, Burnat is constantly filming. His cameras are destroyed by violent reactions as he films his local community’s resistance, framed within the wider Palestinian resistance.

Filmed as a sort of a day-to-day video diary, 5 Broken Cameras mixes footage with conversation. The documentary is transparent in its subjectivity – it is a straightforward portrayal of real life events from one man’s perspective, as they took place.

In one scene, Burnat is in an accident and has to go to Tel Aviv to access the more advanced medical technology of an Isreali hospital, and because he’s not Israeli he gets slapped with a huge hospital bill. Since he was not injured through the Palestinian resistance, the Palestinian authorities refuse him financial help. This tension within the resistance is something Burnat only subtly hints at.

Burnat’s subjective point of view is both the greatest strength and greatest weakness of 5 Broken Cameras. It is through emotion that Burnat works as a filmmaker, and his whole documentary hinges on viewers’ investment in the people on screen. Still, however poignant, 5 Broken Cameras remains a single piece in the conversation.

5 Broken Cameras has been recognized in the wider arts community as well: In 2013 it won the World Cinema Directing award at Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards this year. The documentary was also recognized and praised widely throughout Israel and won Best Documentary Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2012.

Following the screening, the team members of Cinema Politica McGill facilitated a discussion, which allowed the audience to voice their opinions and feelings. The discussion focused on theories and facts related to the Palestinian resistance rather than a personal response to the documentary. This was not too surprising considering that most of the viewers seemed far removed from the action and based their comments mostly on their academic study of the region in question. 5 Broken Cameras shows only one of the many sides to this issue, and a follow-up screening from a different point of view would be a good way to approach this multifaceted topic further.