5 Broken Cameras is one of the most effective pieces of propaganda filmmaking I've ever seen. Its success, apart from the You Are There access to one of the world's notorious trouble spots, is its willingness to let the footage speak for itself. It would have tugged on many more heartstrings if there were ubiquitous music swells, slow motion, held close-ups on crying children. But that's the movies. 5 Broken Cameras, by and large, is real life.
At first we meet his family and neighbors, but more and more we see the modern, sprawling apartment complexes going up nearby. The settlement rips up the land and requires a vexing system of security measures. Where there once were olive trees there is now barbed wire and cement walls.
Burnat doesn't really have an agenda at first, but as his village begins to coalesce in resistance he finds himself becoming more and more. . .I won't say radicalized, but I will say involved.
The camera no doubt acts as an emotional shield, as well. Since there are no jobs, everyone seems to be in the resistance business, and Burnat always has something to shoot. It is commonplace to go to jail for a while, and while Burnat's wife will take the kids to protests (knowing full well tear gas grenades will be thrown) she eventually reaches her limit and begs her husband to stop filming. You've seen the scene in Hollywood movies a thousand times - the wife begs the husband to stop being a hero. The way its done here, low-key, while making the bed and with no tears, would make a theater director throw up his hands. And that's why it's so heartbreaking and effective.
In addition to the gimmick of waiting for each new camera to get broken (and I must admit that, with each hurled rock, you wonder “is camera 3 gonna bite it now?”) we watch the continuing development of Burnat's young son. This is a kid literally growing up in a war zone, who sees soldiers with guns every day and knows that they will use them. (“Why don't you stab them with your knife?” the little boy asks Dad. “Because they will shoot me,” he replies, just a short time after one of his best friends is killed.)
5 Broken Cameras was, however, co-financed by an Israeli film company, and, indeed, its co-director (Guy Davidi) is Israeli. If you listen real close you'll hear a passing reference to the fact that there are a few Israeli sympathizers in the protest, and there is one sequence where the Palestinian Authority mucky-mucks are presented as what they are – politicians. Furthermore, there had to have been some developments in Burnat's story edited out. Toward the end he is seen wearing a fluorescent jacket that says "Press" - so at some point he stopped just being a "man with a camera." It doesn't really matter, but it reminds us that, yes, despite the fly-on-the-wall tone, this is a film that is sculpted for maximum impact.
Then again, that's my perception, that's what I'm bringing to this film. Emad Burnat's five year old kid only knows that he can't go swimming. Or rather, he can only go on the day he's got the proper entry visas for visiting a family member in the hospital, and after a series of lengthy, dehumanizing checkpoints.
The politics aside (if that's possible) 5 Broken Cameras is another example of how new technology has let a story loose that would have been impossible to tell a decade ago. It is a remarkable achievement, and a reminder that one determined man really can make an impact in the world.