5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat


A beautiful scar

This little camera was destroyed by a rock.  This little camera shot by a solider.  This little camera was totaled in car wreck.  This little camera was not.  This little camera cried “wee wee wee” all the way home.

Emad Burnat’s 2011 documentary (how exactly does the Academy determine the cutoff date for entries?) follows one man’s obsession with recording the world around him, specifically the non-violent protests of his fellow villagers in Bil’in when the Israeli army comes a knockin’ and starts building a fence to steal their land.

Over the course of five years time, Burnat goes through five cameras while documenting the protests as well as the growth of his three sons.  Along the way he becomes a bit of a village celebrity and unwittingly the de facto documentarian of the movement to stop the building of the fence by the Israelis and to thwart their attempts at claiming the people’s land for their own purposes.

The film itself is voiced over by Emad and sadly does get a little confusing in places.

For example, we clearly see Burnat’s first camera get damaged, but then someone is filming the act of Burnat receiving the gift of a new camera from a friend through Burnat’s eyes.  How exactly is that possible?  Unless he temporarily borrowed a camera in order to record himself receiving the more permanent gift?  It seems unlikely, since there doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of electronic equipment in the village.

The reactions of Burnat’s wife to particular situations and events feel a bit staged as well, but that could just be the result of her having a camera shoved in her face 24/7 for five years.  I can’t imagine what that would feel like, especially when your life, and that of your small children, is constantly in danger from soldiers with guns who don’t seem to have a rhyme or a reason behind when and who they’ll actually shoot.

Emad and his closest friends all suffer some injustice at the hands of the army at some point over the course of the five-year period.  From arrest, to injury, to death, almost no male adult escapes without some sort of violent injury for his efforts.

The film is a gripping tale, and serves almost as a how-to documentary with regards to running a successful non-violent protest in the Middle East.  In a tumultuous climate, known more for it’s war-torn existence than for that of the human faces who live in fear there every single day of their lives, Emad poignantly brings his subjects to life through the cold eye of his unflinching camera lens.  The good, bad, and ugly of his life is on display here for all to see, but clearly the good wins out.

Ending on an uplifting note for a hopeful future, yet tinged with sadness and regret about the past, 5 Broken Cameras is an important and historic record of one village’s struggle to maintain both its land and its dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a fascinating must-watch and a welcome contender for the Best Documentary Award at this year’s Oscars.

5_Broken_Cameras ★★★★☆
5 Broken Cameras 
Directed by Emad Burnat
Nominated For:
Documentary Feature (Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi)
94 Minutes


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About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.