Emad Burnat

Emad Burnat film still

LWLies speaks to the brave cameraman who captured a violent protest on film and turned it into the riveting documentary, 5 Broken Cameras.

Emad Burnat resides in the small Palestinian border town of Bil'in. Sanctioned by the government, Israeli forces started taking violent measures to extend their borders into neighbouring Palestine, essentially taking land away from local farmers in order to build new developments. Burnat, an amateur news cameraman, decided that the best weapon in his village's peaceful counter-protest was his camera, and 5 Broken Cameras offers a moving peek at some of the footage he captured. LWLies: 5 Broken Cameras has screened at film festivals across the globe. Is this exciting for you? Do you think its been a good thing for the film? 

Burnat: Yes, I think it's exciting. First you start with big festivals like IDFA or Sundance, and then it trickles down from there. I got invitations from many countries. The reaction has been very strong. It's important, because these audiences get to know more about reality and truth through my personal story. It's a film not just about my life, it's about a political situation. When you tell the story from my perspective, it means that audiences are more easily touched by it. It's not like when they watch TV or news, which is all propaganda.

When did the idea come to you to create this movie?

In 2005 I decided to take part in the resistance against the construction of the wall, and I decided to take part with my camera. I thought the camera is a good witness. For many purposes I was filming to protect people and protect myself with a view to screening the footage on the internet. A lot of news companies were coming to my village to report on the construction of the wall, and I gave them a lot of footage. I was the only cameraman in the village. The idea to make a film came to me very early, and it came from a friend, Guy Davidi, who is an Israeli filmmaker. He said I have to make a film about myself. The idea came early, but I decided not to make the film during that time because I wanted to focus more on friends, brothers and family. So after five years of filming, I realised that I had enough footage to tell a story. When I invited one of the Guy to join me, he encouraged me to edit the footage into a film.

Who was asking you for footage?

News agencies, but also people making documentaries.

When you realised you were going to make a film, did you stop giving them footage?

No, I kept giving them footage. They wanted action and violence, and I had a lot of that going spare. I wanted to make my film more about the daily life and my personal story.

There's a line where you say that it was your instinct to capture these events on film. Why?

There were a lot of protesters, but I was the only one filming. It was a responsibility for me. It was important to film, and not just for news agencies. It's for the documentation, just to remember what went on. I wanted to be able to watch this back in 20 or 30 years. It means I will never forget. It's important to have this.

When you were filming, did the very presence of the camera have a psychological impact on the protesters or the soldiers?

Yes. In my experience, the soldiers always got scared when they saw the camera. It's important to be in the middle of the action. It gives the protesters safety as well. For that reason, the soldiers tried to shoot me and my camera many times. They know the camera is very dangerous for them.

During the film, your cameras got bigger with each one getting smashed. You'd have thought they would get smaller.

The focus of the soldiers was always on the camera. The bigger the camera, the more safe you feel. Also, when the soldiers were shooting at me, the bigger camera worked as a better shield against their bullets. They can see it from far away. They think I'm from the international media, so they act differently. There are activists who use small cameras, and the soldiers care less about hurting them. I use the camera to protect myself because I've been injured. The biggest camera saved my life, because I was filming and it got shot twice. One of the bullets is still in the lens.

Considering it was all shot on digital cameras by yourself, the quality and framing of the footage is very high. Did you have any formal training?

When I started out, I just filmed my family and it looked amateurish. But I filmed a lot, so I just naturally got better. Then I started filming for Reuters and other agencies, so I wanted the footage to go in the news and the documentaries, so it had to be steady and clean.

Have you ever given your footage away only to have a news agency alter the meaning?

I wouldn't know. When I give the footage away, I'm more interested in people seeing it than how people use it. I believe that most of the footage was used for our side, though.

There's a moving scene in the film where you show the footage to people in the town.

This was to encourage them to participate in the demonstration. People like to see themselves on screen. Bil'in is a very small village, and it became a symbol for the international community. I think people liked the fact that other people from around the world would see them and see their fight. They feel like part of a movement. It's not just about me, it's about the entire country.

Has the film been shown in cinemas in Palestine?

Yes, it was shown two weeks ago in Ramallah.

What was the reaction?

I saw people crying at the cinema. We live this situation and we know this situation. This is our life. When you watch the film as an American or European, you feel that it's a film that speaks about all humans, not just Palestine.

Has it been screened in Israel?

The idea behind getting an Israeli director to help out with the film was that in turn it would give us access to Israeli audiences. The film was shown in Israel on the TV, and it's showing in cinemas soon. It was also shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the reaction was positive.

Were you present at the screening?

I was, but the Q&A got cancelled. Something happened. We were not happy about this.

Do you watch a lot of films?

I like to watch action films.

Do you see this movie as an action film?

No. I don't even see it as a film. It's life.

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