Filmmaker Interview

Emad Burnat: I got my first camera in the same week when my son was born and the struggle started in my village against the construction. So I decided to take part of this of my camera for a different reason, for purposes. So the village became like symbol of the people of the international community and the Palestinian community.

Guy Davidi: The village is Bil'in, is a village located in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. One day in 2005 the villagers discovered that there is a separation fence built over the people's land and they start to fight against it. These demonstrations [are going on] eight years already, in the film it's six years. And we see how they use creativity throughout the years of the movement, and they are joined by Israeli activists such as me and international activists, and Emad continues to film everything that happens. At the same time he films his son growing, his family, his wife throughout the years and how they confront what's happening outside in the village starts to penetrate more and more into his personal life and his family.

Emad Burnat: The idea came to me to make this film in 2005 because people [from outside Palestine] come and ask me to give them footage... They don't live the experience as same me, and they never have this feeling as the people who live there. So I decided to make it myself. the idea came from one of my friends—'Why you don't make the film, you live here?'

Many people come to make films about our situation, but they don't know the reality of our life.

Guy Davidi: The first time when I went to meet [Emad] he showed me two hours of footage of Phil and Adeeb in demonstrations. And I see this image of an old man blocking a jeep from taking someone to prison and I don't know who is this old man, so I'm asking Emad, 'Who is this guy?' and he tells me, 'That's my father, and he's blocking the jeep from taking my brother to prison,' and I thought... I understood how he felt. I mean I imagine how he felt doing that decision.

But you know I think for a Palestinian to speak about his personal life or about his intimate life is very hard because people are very much concentrated on the community ... the nation, Palestine, so even when he filmed personal footage, he never considered it personal. And even when the beautiful pieces that he caught – for instance, his four kids crossing the separation barrier – he filmed the barrier and the kids were connected to it. So he was not following his kids, it is not a portrait of Gibreel, it was a portrait of the wall.

When I started to discover that there are all these images and that we could create a personal story, I offered that to him, and he said, 'Yeah, why not?'

Emad Burnat: The idea was not to make the film Israel-Palestinian. I proposed for him to join the project after five years of working and creating the film, because he came to participate in the actions and he came to help the village. It was between humans, between someone that I know... [It could have been someone from] the United States, or from different country. Because my relation to make this film is to make my film, my story.

Guy Davidi: The first year of work of me and Emad, we had a big problem, because we had a lot of footage, [but] it was activism footage. We had some small jewels of personal stories but not enough in order to create the lines of a personal narrative, so in the first year most of the work was trying to imagine scenes to send Emad to film them. So when he went to film Gibreel goes to demonstration or when his wife is trying to ask him to stop the film, and even when Soraya hangs the laundry... A lot of personal footage was filmed throughout the first year because we could not build the five year story from a personal narrative because it was not his plan to make a personal story.

Emad Burnat: Most of the work we did [was] in my village because I cannot go to Tel Aviv... I proposed him, I approached him to work with me... it was not political decision... The idea [was not] to make it Israeli-Palestinian. It was very clear to us and to him that this is my film, I've been working on it many years before and you come here to support and to help. And this is a Palestinian film, a Palestinian documentary. It's my experience and it's from my personal perspective, from my point of view. And so we started like this to work on the film.

Emad Burnat: You see him when he is a baby. And you know he was growing fast. His mind was growing fast because he was connected to me. He wanted to go with me anywhere, and I took him everywhere. And he was watching what's going on outside. The soldiers, the wall, the settlements, the events. Anything that happens, he was watching and he was asking questions: 'What's going on? Why, why they did this? And why this?' So he was asking questions and I feel that his mind is, is getting open and big every day.

Guy Davidi: I think an important part of the occupation is the repetition. You know, it's endless. We all know that occupation has been long time with us and is probably going to last for a long time with us. So the five broken cameras are part of repetition and the music is repetitive. It's a kind of endless music and you have the four brothers and you have the (INAUD) illustration. You know you have a victory and then you lose and then you have a victory, and then it's like an endless cycle and that's a theme of the film and I didn't want to lose that. But when you deal with repetition, you always take the risk of being boring for…for the audience. And I think what Veronique [Lagoarde-Segot, film editor] managed throughout the process of the final part of the editing we made in France together, me and her, to create a sense of development in the film.

I stayed in Bil'in, and at the time, there were a lot of night arrests that we see in the film with the kids taken from their houses. For me being an Israeli in the village, it created a lot of difficulties in the beginning because the first one to do such thing is not just to come to the demonstration but to be there.

I had a role also because if in the night, soldiers came to take kids, they used to call me to come out because being an Israeli and with a camera, it was a way to protect people. So one night, there were a lot of arrests in the middle of the night... and all the villagers came out and they were really angry because a lot of kids were in jail, so they were shouting [in Arabic] and the soldiers were very afraid. And they started aiming the weapon directly and I was there shouting, 'They're Israelis, they're Israelis,' with the camera and...and nothing happened. I don't know if just for that but I think it was important.

But in the morning, the military radio reported there was a night demonstration, [and that] there were 40 Israelis present, which was funny. It wasn't a demonstration, I was the only [Israeli] one. But that's the way you know when you take the camera and you participate, you are also participating in another thing, not just making a film.

There was one scene I think that was very hard for him. That was his arrest. For many months I wanted to include that moment because I knew he was arrested and I thought this is a very important moment. He spent one month in jail and one month in house arrest and I didn't have footage so I tried to think, 'Well, what can we do around that?' After a few months Emad suddenly brings this videotape and he said, 'You know one day I filmed myself and I have this footage, I didn't want to show you, to see it, but okay. Just look at it.' And you see him there in the house arrest and he's in very bad shape and depressed and so I understood why he didn't want to expose himself like this because it's a lot of exposure, it's an intimate moment and he's not the hero anymore.

Emad Burnat: I never decided to stop filming because it's more about responsibility. It's my responsibility to keep filming. I am the only one in the village who was filming. And I film to protect the people. So I decided to keep filming. Even if I put my life at risk situation, but this is how the life is where we live. So everybody is suffering there, so I am one of these people. So I decided to keep filming.

Yeah, the film was shown in Israel and there's a good reaction from Israeli people. Some good reactions. But at the same time there's many bad reactions.

They go with closed eyes. They don't care. And they don't want to know nothing about our life. And they don't want to make change. So I think they have to change the way they think about Palestinians. And they have to change the way the mentality, how they think. So we are human and we want what they want. We want to live in peace and we want freedom for our kids and want peace.

Guy Davidi: I think it was not easy throughout this process and to the Oscar, to see how the film is co-opted even by the Israeli media sometimes, but also by parts of that were supposed to be our side, that are co-opting the film as well. I think once you release the film everybody has an interpretation about the film, about its philosophy and also about the way the film was done... it's very painful. It's like a baby that is growing and taken from your hand to go to the military service and suddenly you discover that your own baby is now a soldier and this is not what I wanted to create. This is not the baby I wanted to create. But the baby is good, I mean I really love this film. But it's now in the world and the interpretation and the talks and the discussions about it, that's something that you can not control always.

Emad Burnat: The film was very successful, and after the big success of the film and the story over all the world, it was not a big surprise to be nominated to the Oscar. But for me... I'm very proud and it's an honor to me to be nominated for the Oscar and my film to be nominated to the Oscar. And this is important, more important for my people because this is the first Palestinian film to be nominated to the Oscar. This will draw more attention and big attention to the Palestinian situation.

The flight is 13 hours from Istanbul to Los Angeles and we were very tired. So I was thinking, when we got, when we got in the airport, 'Okay, we arrived. We will go directly now to the hotel so we can take a shower.' But when we got there and I went to stamp the passport, to the immigration, she saw a Palestinian passport and that we all three came from Palestine.

She started to, to ask more questions. 'Why did you come here?' I had a visa and I had everything. I told her, I am an Oscar nominee and my film made it to the Oscar. So she was not paying attention to, to me. A Palestinian who made it to the Oscar, [she wanted me to give more proof] with more documents from the Oscar... I told her I have the emails from the academy and I have the picture of the invitation on my iPhone.

[She said,] 'No, you have to bring more documents and you have to bring more proof why you came here. If you don't come up with these documents we will send you back to your home.' And so she told us to wait. And we were waiting, and she called us again and she started from the beginning to take our pictures and our fingers and then she sent us to another room to wait with other people. So I felt myself like under arrest.

They told me, don't use the telephone, don't use the mobile, but I didn't know what's going to happen to me. I was worried. Gibreel asked me, 'What they are doing? Why they are doing this to us? What we have done?' I told him they would send us back to our room. So he was very angered and upset because he was very tired. He wanted to go to sleep and to take a shower, to sleep.

But you know this is a very small example of what the people in Palestine face every day life by the occupation. On their way to their work, to their school, to their field, to everywhere.

Guy Davidi: I think this film [provides] a new way to speak about these very delicate issues in a nonjudgmental way, with a language that understands that the victim and the aggressor are the same and we don't need to start to compare who suffers the most, and the film, for me, is not about how much we suffered or Palestinians suffer like so many other films that deal with it. For me, this is a film about how from suffering you can grow something and I think this is I brought for the film and how I was inspired by Palestinians villages and people of Bil'in because they suffer, and sometimes in their language they still speak about suffering... 'Look what they are doing to us'... but actually in their life and in their decisions and actions they are inspirational and I wanted to bring that to the discussion. That kind of language.