5 Broken Cameras/Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat

Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers and political activists Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat codirected 5 Broken Cameras, using Burnat’s footage and Davidi’s script to relate the resistance movement in the West Bank village of Bil’in.  The title refers to Burnat’s five cameras that were destroyed while he was shooting. •Availability:   A Kino Lorber release; images courtesy Kino Lorber, Inc. Thanks to Adam Walker, Film Forum, for arranging this interview.


DT:  When you and Emad met, neither of you intended to make a film about the resistance in Bil’in.  How did you commit to making 5 Broken Cameras?


GD:   Emad has been shooting since 2005.  Throughout the years his footage was used by other filmmakers, and he sold some to news agencies, but he didn’t think about making a movie. On my side, I spent five years in Bil’in, going to demonstrations, meeting people, making another film. After a few years I heard that Emad finally wanted to make a film, but there were already so many about the movement that I thought there was no chance to make another one, especially in the same village. In the film industry, once there is a film about a subject, certainly once there are two, it’s a dead subject. Besides, it would be very complicated to do it together because of the political consequences and the cultural differences between us. But then one day Emad convinced me to watch his footage. It contained the most striking image of an old man blocking a jeep. I asked Emad, “Who is this guy?”  And he told me, “That’s my father, and he’s blocking the jeep from taking my brother.” I realized that if Emad would make the film about himself as a cameraman—if we could create his voice, if we could find the jewels in the footage that would support a more personal film that found the connection between the village and his personal life—then we could do it.  But Emad had been doing journalistic work for many years, and he didn’t think the personal elements were of interest to anyone.  In addition, it would not be seen nicely by people from the village that he takes this big, historical movement to tell his personal stories. He was afraid of that, and he was right.  We had to concern ourselves with not making it just a personal story without any general context of the movement.  It was very delicate, but I convinced him that these personal and intimate moments were necessary to retell a story about this movement.


DT:  As codirectors from different backgrounds, what conflicts did you experience while working on the film?


GD:  There weren’t really conflicts, just debates between us about how to create the film, because every decision you make when you do this kind of project—and when you do it together as a Palestinian and Israeli—is going to be judged ten times more.  For both of us.  Emad is going to be criticized for working with me, then deciding to accept Israeli money, but he was sure that was important for accessing Israeli audiences.  For me as a filmmaker, in order to tell the story the way I thought we should, I had to write the voices.  So I’m writing Emad’s voice, which is a very delicate thing to do.  I don’t want to replace his voice.  It’s my writing, but I have to be connected to his point of view, so I’m reconstructing his point of view.  It’s very delicate.


DT:  How did you do that?


GD:  We had conversations about the film, about his life, about the way he looked at things. From the conversation I understood the way he thought. Some of the text I heard from other people in the village.  I had a friend who told me, “As a kid you cannot dream in Palestine.  It’s dangerous because your dream is going to break and you’re going to be devastated.”  Emad is a bit more optimistic than my friend, but I used this in the text.  That was a conflict between me and myself, not with Emad.  Emad was completely assuring me, he looked at the text, and if he thought something wasn’t corresponding to his ideas, he changed it or he told me how to change it.  Between us it was actually very good, but it was kind of a self-questioning all the time.


DT:  Did you work in Arabic or Hebrew, or both?


GD:  The original text was written in English, and Emad and I conversed in Hebrew.  But regarding the question, which was a very important question about the debates between us, the most important and ongoing debate was how intimate the film should be.   For example, I knew he was arrested, and I asked him to find solutions to describe that moment, because we didn’t have footage of it.  Actually he was hiding his footage because he wasn’t sure about being presented that closely with this fragility that he has, a bit weak and depressed and not in his best moment. It’s OK to be shown as a hero, as the great cameraman fighting the occupation, but when you see a moment like his arrest the complete image of a resisting Palestinian is broken.  It was a big process for him to accept it, and after we put it in he was still challenging how long it should be, what moments to use.  But the framework of the film was built in a good partnership between an Israeli activist and a Palestinian activist, and the fact that I was part of this movement before allowed for a lot of freedom and trust between us.


DT:  When you’re talking about your friend who says children can’t dream, I think about Soraya’s comment “If they tell us not to demonstrate on Friday, then we’ll demonstrate on Saturday,”  which is a very different viewpoint; in the one, there’s no hope, in the other, we’re going to keep resisting and resisting.


GD:  The people who told this story about the kids having to be tough are people who were already broken, who were already in jail and know the price. They say they have to be tough not because they have to be great heroes but because you cannot know when the occupation will catch you.  Of course there are people who have less experience, less tragedies in their lives, so they still preserve this mediatized idea of the resistant Palestinian.  Every culture that is fighting for its liberation has these models of fighters, so of course these models exist in Palestine as well, but I think because so many people paid such a big price this model is tired, it’s exhausted.


DT:  Five years of nonviolent resistance in Bil’in achieved a small victory—


GD:  A small practical victory.  There are big victories that are maybe not seen on the surface.


DT:  Do you think that nonviolent resistance is a viable path to achieving peace in the Middle East?


GD:   It’s a big question, but I think when we speak of nonviolent movement we put the emphasis on nonviolent and forget about the movement.  The thing about movement is that it’s ongoing.  It’s developing and it has to develop.  In Palestine the nonviolent movement is still very small. Nonviolent ideas are taken by some people as an ethical decision and by most of the people as a strategical decision,  meaning we take this path as a new strategy replacing violent or diplomatic strategies.  This is a way for the people to be engaged with the resistance.  The path of negotiation and diplomacy was tiring the Palestinian people, and there are big parts of the Palestinian people who are not willing to take the violent way.  Not everyone wants to spend his life with guns, and most of the people don’t want to suffer the consequence for that, but at the same time they couldn’t put all their beliefs and trust in negotiation and diplomacy, which proved after twenty years to be false.  So it’s a very organic development that gives people involvement and a sense of control over their lives, which is beautiful, I think.  And it brings a lot of spiritual force back to the people even though it’s a small movement.  It’s very important, whatever the future is going to be.  Even if the future is not going to be better, with these ideas people have a way of handling depression and suffering, so that’s a bigger achievement than removing the wall in a few hills here and there.  But I think also people are looking at this movement and saying, well, it’s not completely nonviolent.  Of course this is not India, we’re in Palestine and Israel, and we’re not Buddhists yet, so I think there is a path of spiritual and emotional development to follow for both Israelis and Palestinians, because Israeli activists are also part of this.  It’s not a finished movement, meaning it’s not a peaceful movement and that’s it.  There’s a lot of anger, and when people are dying around you people take stones and throw them.  You can’t say that throwing stones is completely nonviolent.  It isn’t, I accept this criticism; of course it’s not guns, but it’s not the peaceful Gandhi kind of way.  But it’s going there.  It’s a challenge this movement has to cross and develop, and I think that once the radical minorities have new ideas and new information, there’s going to be a window of opportunity.  The wheel always turns, and there’s going to be another moment like we had in the ’90s, a moment when people are willing to change whole ideas.  This small movement and small quantities of people have to be prepared with their knowledge and with accessibility to their society so they can influence and guide and navigate and lead in this situation.  It’s going to be challenging, because there’s going to be confrontation with the violent movement, with the aggression with the right wing in Israel, which is so strong and so destructive and so powerful.  Also in Palestine, but I speak about my society, which I know well.  We have to have these instruments for that moment.


DT:  You were in Bil’in making your film Interrupted Stream about the politics of water.  How do the politics of water coincide with the politics of the wall?


GD:  They go side by side. Israel’s idea of creating the wall is protecting the settlers and Israeli society, but we don’t speak so much about the location of these big blocks of settlements.  They’re close to the Israeli border, which in the west is west of the West Bank and on the east, in the valley of Jordan.  These are the most fertile lands of the occupied territories, the valleys that all the waters from the mountain aquifer of Palestine, are flowing to.  By the settlers’ confiscating, you don’t confiscate just a percentage of land, you confiscate the best lands, the most fertile lands, the land with the most quantity of water, which is a very important necessity in the Middle East.  It’s not just a necessity for the Israeli economy; it also prevents any development of Palestinian economics.  So it’s gaining twice—it’s keeping the Palestinians poor and without ability to develop, and it’s gaining resources.  The wall is part of it, because it is planned confiscation.  You know, the length of the Green Line is something like 300 kilometers, and the length of the separation fence route is 700.  Why is that?  Because it enters the occupied territories and West Bank to confiscate land for all these settlements that are located close to or on the fertile lands and water resources.  These are politics that go together.


DT:  What was most heartbreaking for me was Gibreel’s transformation from a baby into a political being by the age of five.  Two of his first words were “wall” and “cartridge.”  It’s a never-ending cycle.


GD:  I think there is development, even if we say in the film that it’s an endless cycle. The endless cycle is a main element of the film:  it’s five broken cameras,  four brothers of Emad who are arrested, and a lot of repetition.  The main criticism that we got of the film is that it’s repetitive in many moments, but that’s part of what we tried to manifest. The film is not structured according to dramatic laws of filmmaking.  If we had done a fiction film, we would have been told scriptwise that we had too many dramatic points.  There are too many dramatic incidents.  Better to just take one or two and focus on them and not have ten.  But we have several, we have guys that are being killed, we see kids are being killed in the film.  There is a scene where a good Israeli friend of mine, Limor, is shot in the head, but we don’t even mention his name.  He’s a lawyer, he’s working for years, he’s part of the whole movement, he even handled Emad’s arrest. He’s now epileptic.  Just this dramatic moment of five seconds in our film is a film in itself.  Or like the daughter of the guy who was shot in the leg and was arrested and sent to jail.  That’s a full film there.  We had so many dramatic points that one neutralizes the other, and we had to punctuate them in order to process so many. They were important in creating the atmosphere:  not exhausting the audience but at the same time trying to have this notion of exhaustion that Emad has, that Palestinians have, that the activists, Israeli and international, have also.  So it’s an endless cycle, but there was development when this movement started with Israeli activists—a mediatized movement, meaning every Palestinian in the West Bank knows that there are Israelis going in the middle of the West Bank and getting shot.  So I think it means a lot, and it can develop further for new types of cooperation.  This film challenges Palestinian society.  Some people don’t want to show it because they don’t accept cooperation with Israelis, as I said, not to mention the fact that there is Israeli money in it, which is also a big achievement for the film.  Going back to Gibreel, he experienced a lot of violence, he has a lot of anger in him, like many other kids, but I think he has also a strong connection with Israelis because he knows this movement, he knows his father is doing a film with an Israeli, so I think that while he’s going to have a lot of anger he’s also going to have other instruments.   I don’t want to generalize from him to the whole Palestinian population because the movement is still small, it’s happening in Bil’in and several more villages, and it’s still not a national movement and there are not thousands of Israelis going to the West Bank, there are only a few hundred, but there is a development.  It’s not just a cycle.  Of course from outside you hear the Israeli-Palestinian thing is endless because it stays forever, it’s always a conflict.  But the conflict changes, and the people are changed in it.  So the good question is not, When is it going to end?  The good question is, How is it going to develop and what are we going to learn from it?  And in that sense I’m a bit Buddhist because I do think that this conflict is going to stay for a while because we still didn’t learn what we need to learn from it as people, as societies.


DT:  The police were invading people’s homes and arresting children in the middle of the night.  Why were they doing that?


GD:   The official argument is that every kid that threw a stone should be in jail.  It’s in order to put pressure on the people to stop throwing stones, but the soldiers know that’s adding fuel to the fight.  It’s also trying to push the villagers to use more violence in order for the soldiers to use more violence—that’s the way I see it.  They see it as the kids broke the law, they have to be arrested.  But it’s ridiculous because they don’t arrest kids who actually threw stones, they arrest people randomly.  I heard and saw crazy stories; sometimes a kid was arrested even though the soldiers knew it wasn’t him who threw stones.  It was his brother, so they took him and told him, “Well, you’re going to stay in jail instead of your brother.” Or they take the kids and do a full interrogation, frightening them and trying to push the kids to say which kids in the village threw stones.  So the kid is frightened, it’s a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kid, and he chooses other kids from the village, three or four, and he says, “Well, they threw stones.”  This is good enough for the court to put these kids in prison, so they take the kids in order to frame other kids. It’s a full system, but the logic is to put pressure on the population:  that’s the basic logic.  The second logic is to put pressure so the population will resist with violence, which is much more convenient for the army in order to react to violence. It’s a bit more difficult to react to a nonviolent movement.


DT:  What do you hope to achieve with the film?


GD:   Maybe too many things for a film.  I’m still of the old school that thinks film can change the world. I don’t accept people who say films can’t. So why do films?  Just for fun?  I can’t deal with this.  I would do fantasy series like Game of Thrones, which I adore, but if I do a political film I have to be committed to the subject.  It comes with it, so I don’t have the right to say films cannot change the world. Who, what, and how much I cannot measure, but our challenge was to access audiences that find it hard to look at this footage.  And these are Israelis, not necessarily the right wing, just mainstream Israelis, the young generation of kids before their army service that have to watch what they’re going to serve before they’re into the system of indoctrination.  My hope is that I can show the film in high schools in Israel.


DT:  Has it had any kind of reception yet in Israel?


GD:  It hasn’t screened yet.  The Israeli premiere is going to be at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July, then it’s going to have a semi-theatrical release.  We had a big buildup from January, when it was released in Sundance, and where it got the directing prize, so now we’re waiting for Jerusalem in July.  But it’s going to be well received by the festival and this kind of cultural community, I’m sure.  The challenge is the main population who doesn’t read the newspaper, who doesn’t know what Sundance is, if they see the film won prizes it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good film, it means that it’s an anti-Semitic film.  It means that people abroad like to give prizes for films that are against Israel. Israelis always look at themselves as the ultimate victims, so we had to build the film in a way that will remove as many of the defenses Israelis have when watching films like this or when hearing about the subject.  We didn’t want to use any kind of intonation of accusal in the film, so the voiceover is very soft and lyrical, poetic and accessible for people.  This is a big change from many films, because people are used to being accused, they’re used to having a subtext of anger from the filmmaker in the direction of the scenes.  Even though the film is very brutal and the incidents speak by themselves, Emad’s voice is very soft, in the way he reads it and in his intonation.  Secondly, we didn’t want to enter into this competition of victim: who’s a better victim, who’s the ultimate victim?  Are Palestinians the victims, or are Israelis the victims?  Everyone is trying to prove that he’s the actual victim.  Palestinians have a better case because of the reality, but Israelis play on history and on the cultural differences of West versus Middle East, and terrorism, and many other ideas.  Everybody’s in this discussion, which is  a false discussion that is freezing any change because we only speak about who’s a better victim.  So I at least made a choice not to speak about who’s the ultimate victim.  The only time we speak about being a victim is at the end of the film, when Emad says, “Even a victim has an obligation.  He has one obligation, and the obligation is to heal.”  That’s a message that I wrote also for Israelis, because they see themselves as victims of the world.  Of the history of the world.  And they are victims of the history of the world, they don’t just see themselves, they are victims.  But they have an obligation to heal from that, because when they don’t heal they cause damage to other people and to themselves, so it’s a kind of message from the current victim to those who were victims, I think.  This is the way I see it, so I hope that people who will make a decision to watch the film will go through something. Of course just making people go and watch that kind of film is tough because it’s always categorized.  You have a big system of propaganda and education to confront.


DT:  What’s your next project?


GD:  I want to do a film about the soldiers and the army.  I didn’t do my military service, I was out after three months of enrollment in the army.  In the scene where we see all the soldiers standing and Adeeb is shouting at them, you feel for the soldiers, you feel their situation. I want to capture something about that.


DT:  Feature or documentary?


GD:   Documentary.  I’m not sure if it’s going to be released on an international level, but for the international audience I really would like to make something about the army.


DT:  I can’t wait to see it.


GD:  I can’t wait to do it.


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