This week, I’m launching a new weekly column at the Sundance Now website, called Docutopia, which will focus on, surprise, surprise, nonfiction cinema. Echoing some of the concerns I’ve addressed in my ReelPolitik blog, I see Docutopia as a place for me to delve deeper into a particular film or films, or a particular topic relating to the documentary form. For my first story, I’m exploring two of arguably the best nonfiction films of the year so far (both of which happent to revolve around the plight of Palestinians): “5 Broken Cameras,” which is opening at the Film Forum today, and “The Law in These Parts,” which doesn’t have U.S. distribution yet, but may come out in the fall. Follow the link, “Broken Cameras and Unjust Laws,” to read the entire story.
Here are some excerpts.
“A personal documentary with a reflective first-person narration isn’t the most original of formats, but in 5 Broken Cameras, the point of view has an essential function: To align the viewer with a Palestinian perspective. When Burnat gets threatened (“If he films, I’ll break his bones!,” cries one bullying Israeli settler) or when his camera get knocked around, obstructed, and even shot, we experience these acts as if we were there, as in a first-person shooter video game, except that instead of firing weapons, we’re just receiving blows.”
“In 5 Broken Cameras—so titled for the several cameras that Burnat employs, each one as battered as the last—the medium becomes the message. As his cameras weather gun fire, car accidents and other abuses, the footage from these failing machines is marred by digital noise, flickers, dropped pixels and audio static, reflecting the literal fracturing and degradation of Burnat’s world.”
“The cameras also protect him like a shield; a few bullets strike them instead of his head. More important is the metaphorical protection they offer him as a witness to atrocity. When soldiers end up at Burnat’s front door and tell him to stop videotaping, he keeps the camera propped up, continuing to record as if it was his only own defense.”