Diana Atallah
The Media Line
January 29, 2013 - 1:00am

Palestinians hope an Oscar-nominated documentary depicting a non-violent struggle against Israel will succeed in telling their story, even though some recent viewers who saw the film in Ramallah expressed reservations about Israeli involvement in the movie.

5 Broken Cameras is one of five candidates for the Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category this year. Released in 2011 by Palestinian director Emad Burnat and Israeli director Guy Davidi, it has been screened in 50 countries and translated into several languages.

Mohammed Al-Khatib, of the Popular Struggle Committee, who organized the screening in Ramallah, said the film was a "national" one. It received a mixed reception at its first showing here: the audience clapping, cheering, laughing and crying during the 95-minute film, but also leveling some criticism for Israeli participation in its production.

But Burnat, with his son Jibril -- who is seen in the film -- standing alongside him on the Ramallah Cultural Palace stage, called the film's nomination "a national day for Palestine. One billion people who watch the Oscars will know the story and suffering of the Palestinians."

"There was a misconception about the identity of this movie,” Burnat told the audience after being asked about the Israeli issue. “I invited an Israeli partner, a supporter who came to my village to help me in the final stages, but the Israeli press called the film ‘Israeli.’ The documentaries nominated for the Oscars are not listed under specific countries.”

"I filmed the movie, but just because an Israeli activist came to the village and helped does not mean the film is Israeli. I just think of it as a human issue as opposed to political," he told The Media Line. He added that the directors received funding from European countries including France and the Netherlands, as well as Israel, to underwrite post-production costs, but that the film is a Palestinian-Israeli-French production.

Burnat, a farmer, started filming when Jibril, his fourth and youngest son, was born in 2005 – the same year popular demonstrations began against the security barrier Israel was building on village lands in Bil'in and construction of the Jewish community of Modi'in Illit was under way on lands villagers claimed belongs to them.

The camera barely left Burnat's hands during the five years during which he filmed the movie depicting the life of his family and the villagers, and the constant friction with Israeli soldiers. Included are Jibril's first words, “wall” and “army”; and the killing of his close friend Basem Abu Rahmeh by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration.

The title of the film comes from the five cameras that were smashed or hit by bullets when the demonstrations turned violent. In each case, Burnat kept filming. Back in Bil'in, where he lives with his four sons and Palestinian-Brazilian wife Soraya, the five cameras sit at one corner, and awards fill two tables in the salon. Photos of Jibril meeting in Istanbul with Turkish soap opera stars popular with Arabs and Palestinians adorn the walls.

After the film won awards worldwide, including at the prestigious Sundance Festival, Burnat and his colleague did not rule out the possibility of an Academy Award nomination. If the strong reactions by many at the Ramallah screening are any indication, that optimism may prove to be well-founded.

Nadia Awad, a public relations specialist in the NGO sector, told The Media Line that she cried during the sad parts of the movie. "I think it was moving and heartbreaking. Seeing the violence of the shots and the tear gas was difficult. And to be honest, as a Palestinian I feel guilty that I have never been to Bil'in or Nil'in and attended these demonstrations even when I knew about them. This might make me change my ways."

Ohoud Mraqtan, a freelance journalist, thought the film was one of the strongest she has seen. "The narration, the story, the reality of the scenes kept our attention for two hours. You can't know Palestinian life unless you see the movie," she told The Media Line.

However, Rami Khalil, who attended the screening, was less enthusiastic. "It's a good movie, but I am still not sure why it was nominated for the Oscars. I think maybe because I am a Palestinian living among the heat of events that I don't see what the fuss is all about," he said.

Some in the audience were still fussing about the film's Israeli funding, but others were focusing on the more important contributions its unusual pedigree can make.

"You couldn't find anyone else?" one viewer asked. While Burnat replied that he did not find Palestinian funding during the making of the movie, Awad didn't see any problem. "If the Israeli participation helps this movie be seen by Israelis as well as the world, then why not? I don't think it's a betrayal of any kind," she told The Media Line.

Mraqtan sees the collaboration as a way of bringing peace. "A Palestinian-Israeli film shows that both people want to live in peace,” he sid. “Let the people see that we all want to live in peace but the occupation forces are not allowing us to."

Filmmaker Burnat doesn't think his collaboration is unique, but its message is. "The Palestinians and Israelis have relations, but the Israeli goes back to his house in Tel Aviv and the Palestinian still lives under occupation. My message from the movie is for the world to see the reality of the Palestinian struggle and suffering through a personal and human story," he told The Media Line.

Burnat's Israeli co-director Davidi wasn't at the Ramallah screening because he was busy with screenings in Israel, the farmer-turned-filmmaker said.

Palestinian Minister of Culture Siham Barghouti, who attended the screening, told The Media Line that Palestinians will launch a campaign to push the film's run for an Oscar.

The Palestinian film Paradise Now, about two suicide bombers planning to blow themselves up in Israel and was produced by Palestinian-Dutch director Hani Abu Assad, was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, but the award went to a South African film.

The film ends with a scene of Burnat and his two sons at the beach in Israel. The director hopes he can ride a wave of local and international support to tell his people's story and, as he told The Media Line, "that this will be the first Oscar to go to Palestine."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017