ND/NF Discovery: Emad Burnet and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras” (Palestine/Israel)

Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat
Above: Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat.

A collaboration between Emad Burnat (Palestine) and Guy Davidi (Israel), 5 Broken Cameras starts five years ago when Burnat's son was born in a Palestinian town in the midst of violent upheaval and conflicts with the Israeli government. All is witnessed by the five titular video cameras, all damaged by bullets or rocks while registering the events. The film played at Sundance and won the Special Jury and Audience Award at Amsterdam's IDFA documentary film festival. 5 Broken Cameras screens at New Directors/New Films on March 26 and March 27. [buy tickets]

Burnat is currently travelling, but Davidi was able to answer a few of our questions.

Describe your very first experience with filmmaking/ What is your favorite (and/or least favorite) movie and why?
Guy Davidi: I was born in Jaffa. Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to tell and write stories. Already when I was 14 years old, I enthusiastically started to write a novel, though it was never finished. At the age of 16, I discovered cinema and started to make short films in my high school cinema course. One of the first films that influenced me, and is still one of my favorite films, was John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. I think seeing the film convinced me that there is something to explore through films. Making my first fiction films in high school were the first films I have made, and this filmmaking period was great even though it was completely escapist filmmaking dealing with love and relationships, without having any general context. But I knew this was just the start. So when I was supposed to go to the army like every Israeli has to when he turns 18 years old, I knew what I wanted to do in life.

For me, cinema was a safe home in a very complex and often oppressive and violent environment. I remember in high school we had a day tour of the army corps. It was part of the regular school program to organize tours to different army units so that they could tempt us to choose the unit where we will serve in for our upcoming military service. This experience was disturbing.  Even though I did not have a very developed political awareness at that age, I immediately felt dizzy and was revolted by the idealization of violence.  At the end of that tour, there was a spectacularly ridiculous screening in the unit’s cinema hall. And on the screen there was a propaganda film of the army corps. I distinctly remember having tears in my eyes as I came to an important understanding that I should shoot truthful and sincere films and not shoot people. With this, I felt strangely at home in this violated cinema hall.

What was the most memorable day of shooting like?
Guy Davidi: I was in Bil’in as an Israeli sympathizer right from the start. I made all my first documentaries there, and throughout 2005 I even stayed there for a few months to create my first feature documentary, Interrupted Streams. It was not easy for me or the villagers of Bil’in to accept, as I was an Israeli staying in the village during the weeks and not just for the Friday demonstrations. They feared that by accepting this, they were normalizing relations with Israelis. Also, these were politically uncertain times, as Hamas had just won the election and no one knew what would happen. During this period the soldiers started entering the village at night to arrest people - many of them young children. Every night the soldiers came, Abdullah, the guy who hosted me was knocking on the door saying: Jesh, Jesh! (meaning 'army') and as I was the only Israeli and also had a camera, I had to go out and film the soldiers even though it wasn’t part of the film I was doing at that time. I remember many times Emad and I were filming the arrests side by side. Some of this footage is in the film - mostly Emad’s footage of course, but some of mine as well.

One night, there were many arrests and the villagers were angry. They came out towards the soldiers, shouting Allahu Akbar. The soldiers were naturally scared and started aiming their guns directly. It was clear the situation was going to explode. I was moving around from place to place shouting in Hebrew “Don’t shoot! There are Israelis!” and luckily no one was shot. On the radio the day after, the news reports were all saying that according to the army spokesman there was a night demonstration in Bil’in and there were 40 Israelis, even though I was the only Israeli there that night.

What was your single biggest challenge in developing or producing this project?
Guy Davidi: When we started this film I knew we would be criticized for doing this film together. Emad would be asked why he chose to make it with an Israeli and me with a Palestinian. The actual differences were something we couldn’t avoid.

We had different privileges and different complications and we had to learn to use them in a constructive way, though they have a tendency to complicate things. We have different cultural backgrounds, life experiences and accessibility to the world. Also there are different expectations of us especially because of our identities.

When I decided to make this film, I thought that this should be as intimate and personal as can be. It was also politically much more interesting for me to be in the role of empowering Emad, and encouraging his voice to be heard.

At the end, that was the only way we could tell this story in a new and emotional way. For Emad, this wasn’t a simple decision. The exposure can be flattering but also risky. Moments like his house arrest showing his vulnerability were not easy for him to accept. He had also to accept my interpretations of him and allow me to construct a character from his life, which isn’t necessarily the same as he is in real life. As this film should be focused on Emad’s narrative, my role would be much more ambiguous for the audience. I was to be a kind of Cyrano de Bergerac, but I think that all storytellers actually find themselves in the same role. It’s the characters that should be in the front and not the filmmakers.

5 Broken Cameras screens on March 26 and March 27 - buy tickets now.

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