Emad Burnat in LATimes– will he be the first Palestinian to win an Oscar?

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Emad Burnat, Bil’in, Palestine. His movie “5 Broken Cameras” is nominated for an Oscar in the documentaries category. (Edmund Sanders / Los Angeles Times / February 2, 2013)

“The Gatekeepers” is racking up mainstream attention like no tomorrow. And meantime, that other documentary about the occupation that is nominated for an Oscar, “5 Broken Cameras,” has been largely ignored, though it has highlighted, or maybe the better word is outright stirred–  fitna. Last week we called attention to the double standard applied by The New York Times. ABC has mustered one line about “5 Broken Cameras” other than the title, Palestinians’ Pains Get Oscar Nod

Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out in documentary following family with four young boys.

And then the trailer just hangs there. So Palestinians are to remain voiceless. And though you’d never know by visiting Google, the LAtimes has just published an interview with Emad Burnat that sheds a positive light on both the film and his relationship with co director and filmmaker Guy Davidi.


There’s been some recent controversy around calling this an “Israeli” film since it was co-directed by an Israeli and got some Israeli funding. Is it Israeli or Palestinian?

This came from my mind, my heart and my soul. It’s a Palestinian film, and that was the idea from the beginning. The collaboration between me and Guy is not between two states. It’s between two human beings because I knew him as a friend. It was never supposed to be about making an Israeli-Palestinian film or about Israeli-Palestinian collaboration.

Why did you turn to an Israeli to help shape and complete the film? Were there trust issues that arose or a backlash from Palestinians?

I had 90% of the footage when I proposed Guy join me. What was missing was the funding and the editing. It could have come from a German or a Palestinian or anyone. But I trusted Guy. He was someone who came to support us in the village in the demonstrations against the wall and the settlements. I knew how he thought about Palestinian rights and the occupation. He was a strong supporter. … But after the Oscar nomination, the Israeli media started calling it an Israeli film because of Guy’s role. And that has brought some pressure on me from some Palestinian politicians and journalists. Some people didn’t respect the film because of that.

Did you set out to make such a personal film?

I started documenting the village’s story. The daily life. And also some of my personal daily life, like my son growing up. The idea was always to make a personal film because many people were making films about the same subject, but most were by outsiders. So in 2005 a friend suggested making the film about my friends, my family and my son. At first I didn’t want to include footage of myself. I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, he’s making a film about himself.” But Guy said that was normal and encouraged me to make it more about myself.

You narrate the footage in very personal terms, but the script was something Guy wrote. Was that strange?

He knows about words and is a good writer. But the narrative came from inside me, after discussions with me. If you didn’t live here, you couldn’t understand those feelings. I never really cared about who got credit. My goal was to finish the film and spread the word.

Was there any friction in working with Guy? Any arguments about the film’s message?

I’d by lying if I said there was never any problem, but that happens even between brothers. After the film became famous, we decided to distribute it and there were some problems over that. To me the main purpose was to show the footage as much as possible to as many people [as possible]. So I’m always fighting for free screenings. But the business partners are sometimes focusing more on business and money.

Do Palestinians care about the Oscars?

No, they don’t care. Sometimes I would see them on TV, but as a child we didn’t have a TV. My wife grew up in Brazil, and she followed them every year. She’s excited about going to the ceremony. She has a dress. My son Gibreel will go with us.

If you win, what will you say to the millions of people watching worldwide?

I have to prepare something. It would be a very special moment to say something about the Palestinian issue. It would be the first Palestinian to win an Oscar. So it would be a chance to inform people around the world about our situation, and give Palestinians some hope.

Will you do another film?

I’m thinking about another project, but I have to find a good story to tell. I’m so busy with the current film that I don’t have a clear mind. And I think after the Oscars it will probably be even busier.

Do you see yourself now as a filmmaker?

To me it’s not just about making films. I put my life at risk. I was shot at. I was arrested twice. I was seriously injured in a car accident. But that was not to make a film or to make money. The film was a way to reach my goal, and that is to tell people the truth about our lives, to tell the story of Palestine.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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13 Responses

  1. MRW
    February 3, 2013, 5:21 pm

    “Emad Burnat in LATimes– will he be the first Palestinian to win an Oscar?”

    Probably not. American Jews (the preponderance who vote for these awards) don’t have enough balls, guts, insight, or courage.

    Mark my words. Won’t happen.

    EDIT: happy to eat my words. Happy to be proven wrong. Won’t happen.

    • Boston
      February 4, 2013, 1:53 pm

      Paul Mooney quipped in a special a few years ago “I miss Jews with courage”.

      Referring to so many Jews who risked their own well being to fight in the Civil Rights movement and contrasting them with the so many today so willing to defend the Likkud elites who run the American Jewish Lobby.

      While obviously not completely accurate (many of those willing to stand-up against these modern McCarthyites are Jewish — G Greenwald, M. Benjamin, R. Falk, M. Blumenthal) it certainly strikes a chord

  2. biorabbi
    February 3, 2013, 5:23 pm

    The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras are both available for streaming as well as for purchase on Netflix. So is the well-made Beaufort and, I believe, Kippur. 5 Broken Cameras was much better than The Gatekeepers which might be renamed The Talking Heads. Netflix is getting better in its selections.

  3. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    February 3, 2013, 5:25 pm

    A nomination is one thing, but I just cannot see the Academy giving an Oscar to a – gasp! – Palestinian! Certainly not without an iron-clad assurance from him that he won’t take the stage and do a Vanessa Redgrave, and instead would have to pitch the whole thing as a cute little bit of ”holding hands across the barricade” schmaltz, with Israelis and Palestinians being seen as equal victims. Oh, and of course the film would have to be labelled ‘Israeli’ or at best ‘Israeli-Palestinian’.

  4. Cliff
    February 3, 2013, 5:26 pm

    I don’t think it will win. It deserves to win though.

    I think the documentary about AIDS will win. It’s an important issue and it’s a ‘safe’ choice.

    Kind of like how ‘Crash’ won over ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in 2006. BBM was an infinitely better film, but not the safe choice then.

    • Woody Tanaka
      February 4, 2013, 9:52 am

      “Kind of like how ‘Crash’ won over ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in 2006. BBM was an infinitely better film, but not the safe choice then.”

      There was definately some of those issues in 2006, as the academy tends to (both) skew old and skew actor, so it’s little surprise, in retrospect, that an ensemble film beat out a film about a gay relationship.

      But, beyond that, I confess that I found Crash to be the better film. Brokeback Mountain was a very good film, and an important cultural milestone, but it was ponderous and slow, downright boring at parts. Crash had a lot problems, but I think it had the fewest problems of all of the nominees that year, in my opinion. (Two of my favorites from that year — Syriana and Joyeux Noël — weren’t even nominated.)

      • Cliff
        February 4, 2013, 2:33 pm

        I thought Crash was simplistic and like a fairy-tale or a PSA. It was very well-made though and I liked some of the story-lines very much (like the Matt Dillon/Thandie Newton storyline; I liked how Dillon’s character had some redemptive qualities in spite of our first encounter with him in the beginning of the film).

        BBM was amazing to me because of Heath Ledger’s performance, the score for the film, etc.

        The love story transcends sexuality and I think that was the theme for the movie. A lot of acting and really any art I guess gets lost in the players internalization of the themes and ideas. They might be going ‘through it’ but end up ineffectively conveying those ideas to the audience.

        I saw this movie recently called ‘Killing Them Softly’. It’s a very unsubtle gangland movie. Funny too because it’s like a British crime movie (lots of killing over a small amount of money and bad accents). In that sense, it seemed very unauthentic but with some good ideas.

        To me, BBM was able to be authentic and convey that doomed romance/star-crossed love story which was beyond the immediate observations (gay!). So stupid how some theaters in the States tried to have the movie banned.

        I really liked Heath Ledger in most of his movies (Two Hands, Monster’s Ball, Candy, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, 10 Things I hate About You, and of course The Dark Knight). So I’m biased I guess. He was my favorite actor.

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 4, 2013, 6:25 pm

        I can understand what you’re saying, although I disagree. I think when you have, essentially 5 intertwined A plots, you’re not going to be able to give each the kind of attention they deserve, so it feels somewhat simplistic (although i wouldn’t use that word.)

        The problem I had with Brokeback Mountain were the script and Ang Lee. There was so much drama that could have been mined that weren’t. I thought Heath Ledger was fantastic. I didn’t quite like Gyllenhall as much, though. Ledger was living the role, Gyllenhall was acting.

      • Cliff
        February 4, 2013, 7:09 pm

        Good point about the multiple plot lines. And yea, I agree about Gyllenhall.

      • Annie Robbins
        February 4, 2013, 7:39 pm

        i thought Gyllenhall was excellent in that movie. perhaps it’s more difficult for a man to appreciate the role he played in the dynamics of their relationship. he was the more threatening of the two because he wasn’t risk adverse like Ledger.

  5. Citizen
    February 3, 2013, 5:49 pm

    “To me it’s not just about making films. I put my life at risk. I was shot at. I was arrested twice. I was seriously injured in a car accident. But that was not to make a film or to make money. The film was a way to reach my goal, and that is to tell people the truth about our lives, to tell the story of Palestine.”

    Vanessa Redgrave salute you. The US Senate wish you go away. Hollywood is more interested in Israelis talking about justice (the other movie).

    The division of work, and the nature of the participants’ input wrt this film is very typical of the fine arts generally. See the Fink movie.

  6. Nevada Ned
    February 3, 2013, 11:31 pm

    I haven’t seen either Gatekeepers or 5 Broken Camera, but either one is an important film.
    The Palestinians has been suppressed and silenced, but they are starting to get their story out.
    Let’s hope both films reach wide audiences, especially 5BC.

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