Emad Burnat, a Palestinian olive farmer living in the West Bank village of Bil'in, got his first camera in 2005 to film his newborn son Gibreel. Over the next six years, he filmed not only the maturing of his son but the loss of the farmland on which Bil'in and its residents had subsisted as it was seized, bulldozed, burned, and developed by Israeli settlers. As the Bil'in villagers persisted in nonviolent resistance, Burnat also captured the real-time images of Israeli soldiers firing at them with gas cannisters and live rounds of ammunition—sometimes with fatal results. Each of his first four cameras lasted from a few months to a year before being irreparably smashed or shot. (At last report, the fifth one is still going strong.)
"I feel like the camera protects me," he says, "but it's an illusion." Similar to its fellow feature documentary nominee The Invisible War, 5 Broken Cameras sears us with the unforgettable faces and stories that were previously our daily digest of nameless statistics—while relating them in an oddly matter-of-fact tone. It documents those suffering injustice and a different kind of rape and loss of innocence, while showing first-hand the intrusions and injustices as they occur. Both movies awaken painful but necessary awareness.
Even as one's fury at Israel as the oppressor grows, it is noteworthy that the film was co-directed by Israeli Guy Davidi and that much of the backing for the film came from Israeli sources. "The Ugly Israeli" cannot be painted with the same brush any more than "The Ugly American".