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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Is Oscar-nominated 5 Broken Cameras an Israeli or a Palestinian film?

5 Broken Cameras - Official Trailer [HD]

The film 5 Broken Cameras has been nominated for a Oscar in the best feature-length documentary category, it was announced yesterday. I reviewed the feature, the product of years’ worth of footage of demonstrations shot by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat, for The Electronic Intifada back in October.

As a film, 5 Broken Cameras works on both an artistic and a political level. It’s a deeply personal film to Burnat in many ways, while also being a chronicle of the struggle of his village, Bilin, against Israel’s apartheid wall and policies of dispossession.

In a press release from the production company, Burnat responded to the news: “This is one of the happiest moments of my life. The village of Bilin is celebrating because of international support of my film. As a child I remember watching the Oscars on TV … I don’t recall seeing films about Palestine, the occupation or our struggles. Times have changed.”

Israeli appropriation

But despite being a deeply Palestinian story about a collective Palestinian struggle, told by a Palestinian, the Israeli press almost immediately began referring to it as an “Israeli film,” along with some US media, and boasting of it almost as a national product.

Even the Israeli embassy in Washington tweeted out a headline from The Forward claiming Burnat’s effort as an “Israeli film”:

Embedded rich on Twitter

But Burnat today denied this. On his Facebook page, after being alerted as to how the Israeli press is describing it, Burnat said it was actually a “Palestinian film … My story, my village story, my people’s story, seven years I was working on the film.”

Guy Davidi, the film’s other director, said in a statement released on his Facebook page that “it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film,” as well as an Israeli film. In the statement (which you can read in full below), Davidi reflects on some of the complexities surrounding the film – which did receive some Israeli funding. (Davidi has also told me that a report about him and the film by Israel National News was totally invented, and they had not even spoken to him.)

Expanding on this point Davidi told me in an online chat: “the film is considered a Palestinian-Israeli-French production since there is finance from these countries and I’m Israeli, Emad is Palestinian, personally I don’t think films should have citizenships.”

In some ways, this debate recalls the Academy’s spurning of Elia Suieiman’s Divine Intervention over a decade ago, on spurious grounds. But this time with a different result.

As far as the Oscars go, however, the two cases are different, because 5 Broken Cameras has been nominated in the documentary feature category, not the foreign language category. In the latter, in-country committees formally nominate films on behalf of the country. So in this case, that issue does not arise in a formal sense – unlike the issues around funding, talent and “nationality” (if films even have one).

Boycott?

The fact of Israeli funding may, for some, raise of the specter of boycotting this Palestinian film. Indeed, last year celebrity academic Norman Finkelstein once again attacked the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for “flagrant hypocrisy” for not calling for a boycott of 5 Broken Cameras.

But this is just another sign of Finkelstein’s sad degeneration, with more frequent attacks on the solidarity movement in recent years, including slandering the BDS movement as a “cult.”

In fact, the movement has strict, detailed and specific criteria for applying the cultural boycott, and 5 Broken Cameras does not meet them. According to the official cultural boycott guidelines published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):

Individual cultural products that receive [Israeli] state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and PR interests, are not boycottable

Before I wrote my review of the film, I wrote to PACBI and the Palestinian BDS National Committee to confirm my reading of the guidelines that this applied to 5 Broken Cameras. Both confirmed it was the case, and that the film is not boycottable as part of the BDS movement.

Activists in Arab countries may, however, apply a stricter standard than this as part of anti-normalization campaigns.

But PACBI cautioned that certain showings of the film “could be boycottable if it is sponsored by any brand Israel type funding,” citing the film’s screening at the Canadian Hotdocs festival last year, which had received money from the Israeli consulate.

Davidi responded that Hotdocs had made a request for this funding without his knowledge. “The festival got sponsorship, not us. The whole thing happened without us knowing so I found that only after the showing,” he explained.

The festival indeed appears to have hushed up this funding, as it does not appear on its website sponsors page, nor on copies the page made at the time.

Guy Davidi’s full statement

I wanted to write a few words for this very complex day. When a film succeeds, you’re supposed to sit back and enjoy, but when a film like 5 Broken Cameras succeeds, a whole box of complex challenges opens up. Every side immediately has its interpretation of the filmmakers or the film. Some are Israelis who immediately appropriate the film for national pride or pride over the national arts, but obscure or completely omit the fact that it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film. Not that a film should have a citizenship at all. On the other hand, there are also activists who are in turn offended by this appropriation and expect harsh statements in response; the kind of statements that would obliterate the possibility of having the film connect with a slightly broader audience. There are dear Israelis, some of them also inside the establishment itself, who supported and lifted up the film, such as the New Fund for Cinema and Television, who were the most incredible and supportive partners for the making of the film, and who are facing an established system that is threatening their existence and independence. And there are the Palestinians and the Arab World, for whom this detail makes it difficult to accept the film, and the film can’t even be screened there because of that.

There is a nonviolent struggle that faces challenges not only from the Israeli occupation but also from within, and the portrayal of partnership with Israelis is a complex challenge, and a Palestinian director may find himself under attack for that. And then there are journalists and headline editors who are looking for half a sentence, a quarter of a sentence that they can wave around, and situate the left wing director in a provocative and nonthreatening space, and the Palestinian director in a nationalistic and nonthreatening space. And then there will be lots of talk-backs for a short while, and the whole matter will be forgotten and the audience will be happy that there is nothing new under the sun and they can continue their lives without disturbance or worry. And in that place, any achievement that was reached is crushed. This is a day with joy and sadness. Joy – it’s clear why, but sadness – about the ability of a delicate and complicated conversation to come out.

Comments

This film is a tribute to the human spirit - its message is universal, coming from a particular place. Burnat and Davidi should rejoice in the controversy it raises. Their collaboration is one of many unknown and unsung others - some artistic, others not, but always highly personal - that have been multiplying in recent years. These are the people who are bringing change by refusing to see their situation in black and white, but in the myriad colours that are the reality people living in Israel and the territories have to deal with.

5 Broken Cameras is a groundbreaking film because it is the work of the oppressed themselves, showing not only their oppression but also their collective struggle against it. Nearly all documentaries have the intermediary film crew that intervenes to tell the story, especially in the editing room. If the Israeli government now wants to claim it as their own, it's rather like the cartoon character who lifts a big rock only to drop it on his own feet. Let's rejoice at the Academy Award recognition and hope that the film is shown at commercial theatres and gets a wide audience, instead of the limited showings that films like this typicallyreceive in front of already sympathetic audiences. The nomination is testimony to the power of the Palestinian struggle.

First. This is a great and important film! I loved it. BUT: This shows the urgent need for possibilities for film production on the West bank. We have a lot of Palestinian filmmakers that end up with Israeli producers. Greenhouse takes the credit as usual. The problem as I see it is that it actually IS a Israeli film. It is Emads story (and some of his photo too), but the rest is controlled outside Bilín. This is a "Greenhouse" project. The Greenhouse project is run by an Israeli organization, http://www.nfct.org.il/english... ,The New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and Television (NFCT). The NFCT was founded in 1993 by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport with the assistance of The Israel Film Council. I quote from the Israel Film Centers web-page: `A remarkable first for the Israeli film industry: Two local films were named Thursday among the five documentaries nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.
The two are "5 Broken Cameras" and "The Gatekeepers." (...) Both films were produced with help from international funds, but also with significant support from the Israeli government.`
http://www.israelfilmcenter.or...

It must be added here that before a filmmaker can receive funding from the Israeli government, s/he must sign a statement agreeing not to place into question the Jewish character of the state of Israel. That means, in short, that no Israeli-funded film may criticize Zionism fundamentally. Davidi at the very least must have agreed to this. By the same token, many filmmakers in former Soviet bloc countries received state funding on similar compromised grounds but made incisive cinematic critiques of their regimes and living conditions. "5 Broken Cameras" is in that category. However, the former Soviet bloc countries were not subject to an international boycott, as is Israel. Is it any wonder that "5 Broken Cameras" has been nominated for an Academy Award and not other good films made this year by Palestinians or by internationals in solidarity with the Palestine Solidarity Movement? Why hasn't "Roadmap to Apartheid" been nominated, for instance? Or "Tears of Gaza"? Or "Where Should the Birds Fly?" Or the incredible work of Kamal Aljafari, e.g. "Port of Memory." No, the only reason "5 Broken Cameras" stands a chance at the Oscars is that it has received Israeli funding and backing. Furthermore, the film's aesthetic--a direct-cinematic testimonial to violence depicted largely outside of analytic and historical context--do not seriously challenge either Zionism or its wrong-headed narrative against Palestinian intransigence. Many J-Streeters would as such have little problem with this film; it fits well with their accommodationist, normalizing agenda. So while I would not endorse boycotting "5 Broken Cameras," in that it does try valiantly to trump the Israeli censors, I would encourage engaged critiques of it as a cinematic work.

What would be good is for this film to be shown along with the short film that Davidi made when he showed this to young Israelis who were shocked to the core...and of course Israel coiuld argue that it deserves some credit since there would have been no film without the Israeli Occupation! But more seriously, this film needs to be seen. It is outstanding and the film itself also shows the potential for Palestinians welcoming support from Israelis who oppose the Occupation......but it does throw up very interesting dilemmas! I hope, hope, hope that it wins and then perhaps it will be shown again .....

In a document on "Five Broken Cameras" by France5, the main funder, Emad Burnat tells that he filmed for five years before contacting Guy Davidi, an activist from "Anarchists Against the Wall" who has been to Bil'in often, and even lived there for a while.
That the Israeli Ambassy in the US claims this is an Israeli film just pisses me off. Emad Burnat filmed his childhood friend Bassem Abu Rahmeh being killed by the IOF-thugs, and Israel has done absolutely nothing - as always - to sanction the killer. A Palestinian filming his own life, that of his family, village and people, and their resistance to the Wall of Apartheid built to steal more Palestinian land becomes an Israeli film. Well, I think we have a new defintition of chutzpah.

When "Five Broken Cameras" (short version) was shown on French television in October, only Guy Davidi was interviewed. Isn't that just amazing how colonial attitudes are still prevalent. They always have to find some 'White' guy to speak for the 'Brown' ones.... If it was possible, the hasbara would probably exclude Emad Burnat totally from the script. "Five Broken Cameras" also has a wikipedia-page that says: Country: Israel, France, Palestinian Territories (in that order). Language: Hebrew, Arabic (in that order). I've seen the full version twice, and it's 90% in Arabic.
If people don't have the possibility to see the film, here's a short French-dubbed version (52 minutes):
www.dailymotion.com/video/k6cG...
Full version (90 minutes) in Arabic, subtitled in Hebrew:
http://hot.ynet.co.il/articles...

For the record, on France 5, Emad Burnat was interviewed as well as Guy Davidi was.

I didn't see the whole debate, but people I know told me that only Guy Davidi was interviewed on the live-link during the debate. If that's not true - I know who you are and have no reason not to believe you - I'm sorry for having claimed so.
What I do know is that no Palestinian was invited, only Julien Salingue, a pro-international justice, and three Zionists: David Shemla, a Peace Now-guy, Bernard Guetta, another "liberal sionist", and the extremist Alexander Adler. and of course that Carole Gaessler started by saying that this was a very 'subjective' documentary (probably she was already thinking of the letter of complaint from the CRIF....).
What do YOU - as the producer - think of Israeli media and an embassy claiming that this is an Israeli film ?

I've edited the Wikipedia page so that Arabic and Palestinian Territories are now first.
(btw:I'm not the writer of that page)

I just want to make clear that my aim is not to attack Guy Davidi. He is a skilled filmmaker and seems to be a great person. This is not about Guy Davidi personally. My main concern as a person living on the West bank and being married to a Palestinian filmmaker is that there is few possibilities for West bank Palestinians to produce their own films. This film is partly funded by the Israeli Government. The Israeli occupation not only steal the Palestinian land, they are also stealing the Palestinian stories, produce them as its Israeli films and by the end they win the prices. When will we have pure Palestinian filmfunds to be able to produce independent Palestinian films? I wonder where is the PA ministry of culture and where does the money going to the PA end up?? NOT financing Palestinian films, thats for sure :-(

The PACBI statment you post makes no sense, as it is directed to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. It states:

Individual cultural products that receive [Israeli] state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and PR interests, are not boycottable

That means citizens like Elia Suleiman. Emad Burnat is a West Bank ID holder so in fact you are totally incorrect in your statment about PACBI's position. Please correct.

Furthermore this film received official Israeli government funding from organizations which is in direct violation with the boycott, including organizations which PACBI has released statements about. Everyone wonders why Emad chose to give his footage to an unknown Israeli video activist rather than a Palestinian partner to tell this story.

It also means citizens like Guy Davidi, the other director of the film.

It is regrettable that Palestinians engage in ANY way with Zionists, even those that hide behind a mask of solidarity. This is normalisation of the most insidious type and should be condemned.

Some people are slamming the fact that Burnat cooperated with Davidi. If Davidi is truly an anarchist, Leftist then according to Leftist ideas it doesn't matter if a Palestinian cooperates with a Leftist Israeli or not. Many Palestinians also work with Israeli and Jewish activists have been beaten in many cases by settlers and their own military. Keep that in mind.

You missed the whole point of the film! Hate attracts hate and this was not the intent of the Palestinian and Israeli who made the film. Emad, the Palestinian said it was a film for healing himself and others. His intent was to make it an.inspiration to everyone who is suffering or feels he is a victim, that he can come out of it and be constructive and positive in his life. PERIOD!

You need a international producer in order to get good funding of your film. But you can do it in many different ways. Emad could have chosen to cooperate with a Palestinian filmmaker or a foreign (not Israeli) filmmaker if he felt he did not have the possibility to do the film on his own. I´m not moralizing over Emads decision. I´m just saying he had a choice, and chose the Jewish Israeli activist and filmmaker Guy Davidi, probably because he trusted Guy that have been working in solidarity with the village and was active in Anarchists against the wall. Then Guy had a choice how to finance the project. Many Palestinian filmmakers and International filmmakers that works in solidarity with Palestine refuse to be financed and produced by Israeli production companies and founds. Guy choose to be founded and produced by Israeli entities like "Greenhouse", New Israeli film found and Israeli TV, besides the International founds he got. This is choices made along the process from idea to ready film, and I still found it slightly problematic...

personally i think it's a wonderful thing for this nomination to have occurred. i also think it's an advantage to have Guy involved and the Israeli funding. it's widened the debate, and frankly, if any Israeli institutions are going to recommend this film, so much the better. far more people will see it, and once seen, the realities of the occupation it portrays are such a savage indictment of the Israeli government (the best ever committed to film, in my opinion) that it's efficacy is guaranteed (beyond everything else, this film is a work about cinema itself, and the questions around its political efficacy). beyond BDS and all other activism, the most important political act is increasing AWARENESS, because it's ignorance of the realities of the occupation which mostly inhibits real change. nothing has been clearer in combatting this ignorance than Five Broken Cameras.

Could we just enjoy an absolutely riveting film? Could we just wave to our friends still walking every Friday? Hi Guys! Hi Haitham! Did the elderly Israeli man who was hit in the eye take the hit as an Israeli, Palestinian or simply a loving human being?
Evil conquers when we allow ourselves to divided. Am I suppose to be angry with Joe Biden because he helps run America? Rather, let's encourage those waking up.
As we talk here, we have Americans, Palestinians, Israelis, Italians, Egyptians, Syrians on both sides etc. all talking. Apparently our screaming and hollering is getting through.
Let's just let the story unfurl in all its glory. Let's raise our brothers and sisters on our shoulders and carry them garlanded in flowers into the God Damn Oscars!

quite right, karen. does it affect this film if those other films weren't nominated? it's what i despair of the the professional left. we have a success, something that might do some good, and straight away we have to start undermining it. all strength to the filmmakers and just tell everyone to see the bloody thing...

Look, do you think Israeli right wingers are happy about such a movie? They're probably upset with it like some Republicans in America were about some things that received government money that they hated. If it pokes an eye in the occupation and apartheid system then so be it.

The headline in Maan News calls the film a "Palestinian documentary" : http://www.maannews.net/eng/Vi.... However, I heartily agree with Karen.

5 Broken Cameras is an excellent film and everyone should see it. That said, I was at the Hot Docs premiere, where on hearing that the Israeli consulate had supported the screening, Davidi thanked them and said he didn't support cultural boycotts. It's disappointing that so many people make statements about BDS without checking the PACBI guidelines, which are well reasoned and rigorous—it doesn't call for a blanket boycott of culture from Israel.

Israel is crazy and irrational. Why would it endorse a film that shows its true colors with the tweet you mentioned above: "Two Israeli films are among the five nominated for best documentary for the Academy Awards http://jd.fo/oBX via @jdforward". Despite not explicitly naming the film in its tweet, and calling it "Israeli", it still provides a link that can easily give any curious person the means to finding more out about Israel's injustices.