[xrr rating=3.5/5]The are innumerable ways that the current American news media fails in its role, but perhaps the most egregious are the ways in which the violence and bloodshed of the war-torn regions seems more distant than ever. The amazing number of tools at the disposal of citizens to capture the immediate pain they’re witnessing are, as far as the major television news outlets are concerned, best employed in getting digital footage of frenetic animals, addled children, drastically misplaced automobiles and other inane curiosities of daily living. Meanwhile, there are people sadly documenting the grind of human misery and the shocking material they capture is given nary a mention. But the crazy flash mob wedding proposal in the middle of a busy airport? You gotta see this.

Like Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo, which provided a frighteningly intimate look at the firefights faced by a group of American soldiers in Afghanistan, the new documentary 5 Broken Cameras pushes closer into combative action than seems possible and advisable. The difference is that the chief photographer in this film isn’t just a journalist with some level of contentment that the assignment will end, and he can walk away. Instead, Emad Burnat is fully in the midst of the problems he films. He proudly views himself as a journalist, but the entirety of his existence is the story.

Burnat is a resident of the village of Bil’in, a modest Palestinian community that is facing the encroachment of Israeli settlements. The land that is home to olive trees, which many of the villagers harvested as a means of subsistence, winds up behind the separation fence that is erected and then guarded by the military. Burnat bought his first video camera when his youngest son, Gibreel, was born. He uses it to captures the boy’s progress, but he begins to turn it more and more on the protests of his neighbors and the increasingly bloody skirmishes they provoke.

Israeli documentarian Guy Davidi collaborates with Burnat to shape all this footage into a movie. It has a rough-hewn quality, an adherence to the formless ebb and flow of life itself that largely defies easy narrative frameworks. In general, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so fraught, complicated and emotional that it’s difficult to condense into easy gulps, and the directors avoid trying to make sense of it all. Instead, the film is resolutely about the personal stories. This is the way the ongoing tensions impact one community, one group of people, one set of families, friends and cohorts. Burnat is simply one man trying to take it all in, using the only method he has to try to coax the senseless into making sense. He marches alongside those who stand on one side or the other, viewing the ceaseless vitriol through the kindly distancing viewfinder.

5 Broken Cameras can become a little numbing at times, but that’s less a flaw in the filmmaking than a proper reflection of the troubling consistency of the stalemate between the two sides. The ingenious device that Burnat and Davidi employ to combat this problem is the framing of the film into rough chapters that correspond with the five cameras that Burnat saw destroyed during the half-decade or so depicted in the film. In a way, they become additional casualties in the conflict, albeit far less critical than the human lives that are torn away. Still, every time one of them is battered beyond repair, it’s a small measure of how much the violence is escalating, how averse the Israeli soldiers are to having their movements filmed and how dangerous things are for Burnat (one of the cameras is finished when it stops a bullet that might have otherwise ripped through the photographer). It’s just one more way that Burnat’s cameras bring the viewer closer to the strife he endures.

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