This weekend when the Hollywood glitterati are walking down the red carpet before the Academy Awards ceremony, there will be a rather unusual sight: a pair of documentary filmmakers from opposite sides of a longstanding conflict. Emad Burnat is a Palestinian. Guy Davidi is an Israeli. They collaborated on the Oscar-nominated Palestinian documentary “5 Broken Cameras.”
The film tells the story of Burnat, a farmer, and his family, beginning when his son Gibreel is born in 2005. At the same time, the Israeli government builds a separation wall through their village of Bil’in. Burnat documents the villagers’ non-violent resistance to the wall and the Israeli army’s harsh reaction. Over the course of five years of filming, his cameras are destroyed. Burnat and Davidi weave more than 500 hours of footage from five successive cameras to tell their story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“5 Broken Cameras” is the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Oscar. It also won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the Best Documentary award at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival. It was shown on Israeli television and in theaters. Davidi is now raising funds to organize screenings for Israeli children and teens.
Burnat and Davidi sat down for an interview with Christiane Amanpour ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 24.
“I’m very excited to be nominated and it’s an honor,” said Burnat. “But it’s more important for me than the Oscar that this will draw attention to my story, to my village’s story, to the Palestinian story, to solve the problem, to get freedom and to get peace for our kids and the next generation.”
Davidi began his collaboration with Burnat a few years after he came to Bil’in in 2005 to support the villagers’ protests.
“There are a lot of films told by Palestinians speaking about the occupation that are playing in this game of ‘Who is the better victim?’ And then Israelis that think of themselves as victims of humanity because of history, so they are afraid of being victims again. So this allows them to victimize other people.
“I think in this film Emad speaks about healing and how as a victim he has a responsibility to find normalcy in his life,” said Davidi.
But both are cautious about attaching any symbolism to their collaboration.
“The collaboration was between friends and humans, not an Israeli-Palestinian message,” said Burnat. “To show that Israelis and Palestinians work together is not solving the problem. It means nothing. We have to look at the politicians to change their policies about the other side.”
Davidi added: “There is a tendency to beautify Israeli and Palestinian collaboration, to show it as ideal. It wasn’t ideal. We had a lot of challenges in doing that. But I think the main thing is that we are working together for a certain cause and the cause is to stop occupation, to give freedom to Palestinian people, and this is what drives us.
“I’m not part of the film in order to show the good face of Israelis. I’m not representative of Israeli society. I’m part of a very tiny minority in Israel. So it’s not fair to use me and my identity to say, ‘Look, an Israeli is working with a Palestinian.’ That’s not the issue. The issue is that occupation is very bad for Israelis, and I think more Israelis should participate in this kind of movement, which unfortunately is not the case.”
“5 Broken Cameras” is up against four other contenders for the Documentary Feature award, including “The Gatekeepers,” a film about Israel’s counterterrorism agency and its role in violence between Israel and Palestine. As Burnat’s own film documents, the long-standing conflict has an effect on the everyday, as the filmmaker experienced on Tuesday after flying to Los Angeles for the awards show.
In a statement released the following day, Burnat said he was detained by U.S. immigration officials at LAX for about an hour and asked for proof that he was nominated for an Academy Award. He was then released.
“Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank,” Burnat wrote in the statement. “There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”
In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was prohibited from discussing specific cases due to privacy laws.
Director Michael Moore took to Twitter after Burnat contacted the filmmaker during the incident. Moore sent a series of tweets about the encounter: “After 1.5 hrs, they decided to release him & his family & told him he could stay in LA for the week & go to the Oscars. Welcome to America.”