5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, stark indictments of the Israeli occupation and its effects on Palestinian life, failed to garner the coveted Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards Sunday.
The films lost in the best documentary to the Swedish/British production “Searching for Sugar Man,” ensuring another year without an Israeli film winning the coveted film award.
Emad Burnat, the co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, objected to his film being called Israeli.
Burnat has a point. 5 Broken Cameras is almost entirely his production. He spent years filming the nonviolent protests in his village of Bil’in, where residents struggle with the encroachment of the separation barrier and the calving off of land for Israeli settlements. Burnat had some assistance from Israeli director Guy Davidi, but Burnat did the bulk of the cinematography, contributed the narration, and is the documentary’s star. It’s his story. And while the film received some government financing, Burnat isn’t an Israeli citizen; he’s a Palestinian living under Israeli military occupation. (Ajami also received some support from the Israeli government.)
The Academy doesn’t distinguish between nationalities for the documentary category, which is why two “Israeli” films can be nominated at once. But they are an important pairing—not the whole story of the occupation, but two essential pieces of it. With patience and steely determination, 5 Broken Cameras leads us through the daily humiliations of attacks from the army and settlers, night raids, the arrests of children, and the difficulty of staying nonviolent amidst an excruciating situation. We see the birth of Burnat’s son, Gibreel, and hear some of his first words: the Arabic terms for shells and soldiers.
The Gatekeepers offers unprecedented admissions from six retired heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, all of whom issue startling critiques of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. “We are making the lives of millions unbearable,” says Carmi Gillon, who also relates his pain at failing to protect Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from a right-wing Jewish assassin. “Suddenly it becomes a kind of conveyor belt,” says Ami Ayalon, about the practice of targeted assassinations. At the end of the movie, he laments, “We win every battle, but we lose the war”—words that highlight the ultimate futility of what one former Shin Bet chief calls “tactics without strategy.” All of these men, including the iron-fisted Avraham Shalom, advocate negotiating with enemies, from Hamas to Ahmadinejad.
These films, too, represent a kind of negotiation, one that would have us move beyond antique binaries of victimhood and victory. By nominating 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers, the Academy is spurring a dialogue that started only after decades of laureled films about European Jewish survival and Israeli might. These are much different movies than Exodus, Schindler’s List or Munich. They’re about guilt, justice, dignity and the limits of violence; they’re about the long hangover of war and the mature demands of statehood. Kathryn Bigelow, who calls herself a “lifelong pacifist” while in the same breath praising the bravery of those prosecuting the war on terror, would do well to watch.