The Story Of A West Bank Village Told Through '5 Broken Cameras'
In 2005, Emad Burnat got a video camera to record the birth of his son. That same year, Israel's security barrier went right through his village of Bil'in in the West Bank. The fence cut off some fields and olive groves on the other side.
When protests broke out against the establishment of the barrier, Burnat became the unofficial cameraman for the weekly anti-wall protests that drew support from around the world.
The documentary 5 Broken Cameras tells the story of protesters and focuses on how the resistance affects Burnat's family, his friends and his village.
"My responsibility to do this and to film and to protect the people and to focus and to follow the events in the village, it's not someone who came from outside to shoot some shots and to make a film," Burnat tells NPR's Neal Conan. "I mix everything — the filmmaking and the mind and the head and the blood — everything to work and to be there."
The film is the first-ever Palestinian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Burnat and co-director Guy Davidi, an Israeli activist, talk about the making of the film and the cameras that were broken along the way.
On how Davidi got involved in the film
Davidi: "I've been joining with other Israeli activists to do some demonstration in the West Bank to support villagers whenever they started the nonviolent movement. ... When the movement reached Bil'in, I joined there the people to support them, and actually I made a few films and I lived in the village for a few months, which was a very rare thing for an Israeli to do — to go and stay and spend time with the villagers — but the hospitality and generosity of people was amazing.
"And when Emad called me, it was already after a long period of time that he was filming, and he was doing his incredible work. ... Here it's me who was empowering his voice, trying to help him to raise his voice and not to try to create kind of a balanced film ... No, this is his story."
On the risks Burnat took during filming and his family's reaction
Burnat: "I was shot many times, and my cameras were broken — were shot by bullets and gas canister. And I've been arrested twice. I've been very far from the family for a long time. I've been in jail or in house arrest. So they were suffering. They were alone.
"So [my wife] wants to stop — she was worried about me, and she wants ... to be safe and to stop to put my life at risk, because she wants me to be with the family."
On public reaction to the film
Davidi: "I've been trying to promote this film in Israel to be screened in the educational system in Israel, not just in cinemas and television. ... This is the most important time for this generation to try and understand and see what's going on in their country. ... Their reactions are amazing. Sometimes they are very hard to hear. Sometimes these children are in shock. But sometimes, you can see that there's kind of an emotional openness that allows them to understand better what's going on."
Burnat: "In the beginning, when the film was screened first in Holland, I didn't expect all these reactions and fans and this success. So since last year, the film was very successful and it was shown in ... different countries all over the world. And the people liked it and loved it and people being touched and moved about the story. ... I hope ... this film can give people more attention and can be addition to the Palestinian subject so we can make peace for the kids, for the next generation, for my son."
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
And now we continue our series on the films nominated for best documentary feature at this year's Academy Awards with the first Palestinian film to be nominated for that Oscar. "5 Broken Cameras" tells the story of the village of Bil'in in the West Bank. In 2005, Israel's security barrier went right through the village and cut off some fields and olive groves on the other side. It's also the story of Emad Burnat, who got a video camera to record the birth of his son, became the village's unofficial cameraman, and then the documentarian of weekly anti-wall protests that drew support from around the world. The film shows his infant son grow to be a five-year-old boy, and it shows how occupation and resistance affect his family, his friends and his village. The co-directors of "5 Broken Cameras" join us from our bureau in New York, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. Thanks for being with us. Congratulations on the nomination.
EMAD BURNAT: Thank you.
GUY DAVIDI: Thank you very much.
CONAN: And Emad Burnat, this is your story you see in the film. Was there a moment when you realized that you needed to be the documentarian, that you needed to record all these events?
BURNAT: Yeah. First of all, when I started in 2005 to document and to follow the events and to record, this is was part of the struggle in my village with my people for many purposes, to protect the people and to be a witness and to use the footage in different TV agents(ph) or channels. So very early in 2005, when people came to participate in demonstration and action in my village from everywhere, from Israel's activist or international activist and people who came to make films about the subject about Palestine or about the wall, about the story of my village, so because I was the only one who document there and who has a camera, so I was there for 24 hours when everybody leaves. So they were asking me to give them footage and to help them for their documentaries.
So the idea came from my - one of my friends, to make a documentary about the village and about myself. So I got the idea, so I started thinking about to make a personal film and to make it from personal perspective, from my point of view. Then because, you know, it's not easy to live there and to feel the same feeling. And so I live there. This is my life. This is my daily life. And everything, what happens there is connected to me and related to me, so I was affected with my friend's problem, my family and the village. So I started following there the characters and my friends, my close friends (unintelligible) and following my son Gibreel(ph) and creating the footage for the film. So I, yes, so I - then I proposed to my friend, Guy Davidi, to help me and to come to the project. So we started together to construct and to write the - it takes time to work (unintelligible) this film. So together we created the, I think, very important story - very important film.
CONAN: Guy Davidi, your friend - let me ask you how you got involved with this and then you're looking at, well, I assume a whole lot of footage. How do you reduce that to a documentary?
DAVIDI: I've been joining with other Israeli activists to do some demonstration in the West Bank to support villagers whenever they started the non-violent movement. So when - in 2005, when the movement reached Bil'in, I joined there the people to support them, and actually I made a few films and I lived in the village for a few months, which was a very rare thing for an Israeli to do, to go and stay and spend time with the villagers, but the hospitality and generosity of people was amazing. And when Emad called me, it was already after a long period of time that he was filming, and he was doing his incredible work. And when he brought me to do the project, I thought that - at least in one film that is dealing with the occupation, because there were so many films that were done about this subject, but here it's me who was empowering his voice, trying to help him to raise his voice and not to try to create kind of a balanced film where two of our point of view are the same: his is Israeli and his is Palestinian.
No. This is his story. So the whole construction of the film was trying to script and to create things between what's happening in his personal life and in his family and then to create things with what's happening in the village at the same time and to create a sense of time and the sense of development, because repetitiveness is very important to understand occupation.
You have five broken cameras. You have a lot of - Emad's brother got arrested. So a lot of things are repeating on themselves. So one of the biggest challenge in the editing is to find a way how to create a sense of development that things go further and further and it's not just kind of the same thing.
CONAN: Yeah. It's interesting, that repetitive nature: the protests every Friday, the demonstrations, even the tear gas canisters take on - well, they become pretty predictable.
DAVIDI: Yeah, it's a kind of a ceremony. It's the Friday ceremony. So - and it's a ceremony where you never know what's going to happen. You can go to a very big demonstration and nothing happens, but in a small demonstration that seems quiet someone gets shot. So...
CONAN: Emad Burnat, there was also a personal cost for you. In the film we see one of your close friends hit by a stun grenade and killed.
BURNAT: Yeah. To be there and to live there all my life and to face the soldiers every day, every night, it's not easy. So I was related to this place. I - my mind in this place and my heart in this place. So I - my responsibility to do this and to film and to protect the people and to focus and to follow the events in the village, it's not someone who came from outside to shoot some shots and to make a film. I mix everything, the filmmaking and the mind and the head and the blood, everything to work and to be there. So to be in this situation, it's not easy for everybody or for everyone who just come from outside. We...
CONAN: And the way you tell the story, this is not an anonymous protester who is killed. This is a man we have come to know through your camera.
BURNAT: Yeah. He was very close to me. He was my friend and with other friends that we were close together. And he - I was following him even before, since 2005. And he was also a friend of my kids, a friend of Gibreel. And the - he has relationship with Gibreel, a very strong relationship with Gibreel. So I - when you see - you can see in the film many shots with Gibreel and Phil. And Gibreel, my son, was shocked by the killing of Bassem, as well everybody in the village and around the village.
CONAN: I should just explain. Phil was Bassem's nickname. The elephant, as he's called.
CONAN: I wanted - there's one scene - the film is in Arabic very largely, and I wanted to play one clip, though, and ask you about the decision to include it or not. This is your wife, Soraya, pleading with you to stop filming so that you would stop being injured and stop being arrested.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "5 BROKEN CAMERAS")
CONAN: And those of us who do not speak Arabic can still hear her concern and her anger and her frustration.
BURNAT: Yeah. I was, you know, I was affected by this, as my family. We were suffering all the - during - on the last seven years and from this - what's happened in the village. I was shot many times, and my cameras were broken, were shot by bullets and gas canister. And I've been arrested twice. I've been very far from the family for a long time. I've been in jail or in house arrest. So they were suffering. They were alone.
So she wants to stop - she was worried about me, and she wants just to - me to be safe and to stop to put my life at risk because she wants me to be with the family, so - to take care of the kids. And this is where we live and where we grow up and what we come through over all the years. And so I hope that what I was doing can change some things in the future.
So - but she know now that what I was doing, it's very important, and she supported me all the way because many people around the world now can be - can watch the film and be informed about the situation in Palestine and the reality and the truth of the Palestinian life, not just propaganda or reports or in news.
CONAN: Guy Davidi, there's another nice scene in the movie where it is - the footages start to be shown to the villagers, the subjects of the film, in a way, on TV screens. We see them sitting around watching it, and it made me think there must have been a similar scene when you went back to screen the documentary after it was finished.
DAVIDI: Yeah. It's funny. Yeah, I've been trying to promote this film in Israel to be screened in the educational system in Israel, not just in cinemas and television, but try to reach out to school, through high schools, because these kids, Israeli kids, are - they're going to be recruited to the military service and they're gonna be posted in positions, and they're going to be brainwashed by the military.
So this is the most important time for this generation to try and understand and see what's going on in their country under their responsibility. Or it will be their responsibility since they are minors, but - so I've been documenting several screenings that I've been doing in high schools and their reactions are amazing. Sometimes they are very hard to hear. Sometimes these children are in shock. But sometimes you can see that there's kind of an emotional openness that allows them to understand better what's going on and...
CONAN: And have any of those screenings been in some of the settler communities?
DAVIDI: No. It's just - for now we're just doing an alternative program. So we're trying to reach the high schools where we are invited and are willing to accept us, because the ministry of education in Israel is not allowing - not accepting this kind of film to be an official part of the program. So we have to kind of work on the side - so to get into settlers' high schools will be another challenge later on.
CONAN: We're speaking with the co-directors of the film "5 Broken Cameras," one of those nominated for best feature documentary at this year's Academy Awards. Our guests are Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Emad Burnat, of course, recording these events became very important in your life. It became who you were and what you did. And then making the documentary, did you ever imagine that it would have this much impact?
BURNAT: I, you know, worked, you know, in this film and the - it's - it was clear to me that the goal - my goal is to reach the people and to let the people know about our life, about our daily life, about the Palestinian situation. But in the beginning, when the film was screened first in Holland, I didn't expect all these reactions and fans and this success. So since last year, the film was very successful and it was shown in every - different countries all over the world. And the people liked it and loved it and people being touched and moved about the story...
BURNAT: ...because it's a story connected to the humanity.
CONAN: And tell us, what is the situation in your village now?
BURNAT: The situation is that - still the same situation. There's no change in the situation because we're still living under the Israeli control, under their occupation. So there's no change. I hope that the - this film can give people more attention and can be addition to the Palestinian subject so we can make peace for the kids, for the next generation, for my son, Jibril.
CONAN: And how is your son?
BURNAT: He's eight years old now and he's good. He's OK. He's, you know, he's continuing his life as normal. And it's not normal life for kids in Palestine to grow up - to born and to grow up in this situation. They were affected by different situation in the village or at the West Bank. And this is the life where we live.
CONAN: And I have to - yes, it's the life you live. There's a moment after your friend is killed and your son expresses incredulity and asked you why, in fact, you don't attack the Israeli soldiers with a knife. And you explained to him some of the realities that a four-year-old, five-year-old boy - well, he's growing up awfully quickly and you speak of the narration at that moment about anger and hatred. Is he growing up with anger and hatred?
BURNAT: I think the situation is not good to create or to grow up in this situation for kids. It's not normal situation. So kids like Jibril to be connected to Basem and just he - Basem was killed in one moment and he just - he was affected by this, and he just - we live in this situation, and he sees the soldiers every day in the road around the house and in the fields. So it's became like a normal life and became - for him, it's the - for kids to know more about political subjects or about that situation in the village. And, you know, the - very well where we live in the - because we don't need to teach him or to teach the kids about our subject. They know because they live in the reality.
CONAN: And, Guy Davidi, a final question. When do you head for Los Angeles and Hollywood?
DAVIDI: We just came from a short visit, where we try to promote film. And we're going to head back in a few - in a week, in a week and a half to - before the Oscars. I also forgot to mention that if you want to see that video that I mentioned about the documentation of a high school in Tel Aviv and how our children - Israeli children watched the film, you can go and watch it on the campaign that has opened up on - into Google. You just start Google and you look for "5 Broken Cameras," and you can see this beautiful video. And you can contribute if you want or not.
CONAN: Thank you both very much for being with us today. And we wish you the best of luck on Oscar night.
DAVIDI: Thank you.
BURNAT: Thank you.
CONAN: Our guests were the co-producers and co-directors of the film "5 Broken Cameras." They joined us from our bureau in New York, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. You can find all of our interviews with the filmmakers behind Oscar's top documentaries at our website. That's at npr.org.
Eastern Long Island still recovering from Superstorm Sandy is under a blizzard watch through Saturday. New York City is expecting four to six inches. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says plows and 250,000 tons of salt are on standby. And in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino has already announced the city's public schools will be closed tomorrow. A major storm heading for the northeast. We here in the D.C. area, apparently, we dodged the bullet, maybe some freezing rain.
Tomorrow, TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY with a look at the science of slumber. We'll be back with you on Monday to talk about the new American boom towns and the oil and natural gas explosion in the American West. Join us for that. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.