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With Oscar Nom, Will Palestinian Doc “5 Broken Cameras” Enter Mainstream Debate?

With Oscar Nom, Will Palestinian Doc "5 Broken Cameras" Enter Mainstream Debate?

I’ve been advocating on behalf of “5 Broken Cameras,” Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s engrossing and intimate doc chronicle of Burnat and his village’s struggles for self-determination in Occupied Palestine, for nearly a year now. I first wrote about in March, then championed it again on my year-end lists, and am sincerely excited to see the film nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, just one day after it won the best doc prize from the Cinema Eye Honors. I don’t think “5 Broken Cameras” will win an Academy Award, but will its nomination vaunt this important film into the wider cultural conversation?

Released theatrically in May by Kino Lorber, “5 Broken Cameras” only made a pittance in ticket sales (about $75,000, according to Box Office Mojo), but is now available on DVD, where the film should likely get a boost.

After receiving the nomination announcement, Kino Lorber president Richard Lorber said, “As unimaginable as it was for this collaborative Palestinian and Israeli film to actually get made is now the fact that it is being honored and recognized as both a work of art and landmark political documentary. We are beside ourselves with pride to be the distributor of this unprecedented film.”

Indeed, it is a bit unimaginable that a film that is so critical of Israeli policies, of Israeli settlements and the Israeli military, should get so much attention. It’s common knowledge that a chunk of the art-house audience (and the Academy) is Jewish, and one wonders whether Jewish Americans will be seeking out the movie in greater numbers. It’s probably not a coincidence that Lorber and other backers of the project are emphasizing the fact that the movie is an Israel-Palestinian collaboration. Perhaps it will make the movie’s content more palatable to American Jews.

When I presented the film at an American film festival, one audience member was bothered by their belief that the film was highly biased, presenting only violence against Palestinians and no violence perpetrated by Palestinians.  I don’t think it’s exactly the fairest critique (the movie is not a wholesale examination of the Middle East Conflict), but it’s a widely held notion that presents a hurtle for the film with American audiences.

Then again, perhaps the cultural tide in America is really shifting against Israel’s oppressive policies, following the recent attacks in Gaza, which killed dozens of innocent women and children. With the announcement of Chuck Hagel, who has shown a consistent concern for the plight of Palestinians, as America’s next prospective Secretary of Defense, perhaps “5 Broken Cameras” has come at a particularly opportune time.


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