Earlier this month, one of the most glamorous cultural events of the year took place. The Hollywood elite donned some of the world’s most expensive clothing and jewelry for an evening that honours the year’s best achievements in film and acting: the Academy Awards.
One of the less distinguished awards of the evening is the “best documentary” category; documentaries are nowhere near as intriguing or entertaining as fictitious film for most people, and they often unveil disturbing truths most people would rather not acknowledge.
Indeed, four of this year’s five nominees are of that ilk. One, How to Survive a Plague, shed light on the utter failure of the New York and U.S. governments to help gay men during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras examine the Israel-Palestine conflict from different perspectives; and The Invisible War looks at the pervasive problem of sexual assault in the American military.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film that won was Searching for Sugar Man, the tale of a lost and then found Detroit recording artist who had, unbeknownst to him, become enormously successful in South Africa. Compared to its competitors, Searching for Sugar Man is decidedly unserious stuff.
I watched 5 Broken Cameras the week after the Oscars and expected a well-made, probably depressing film with little new information for me, someone who follows the Israel-Palestine conflict fairly closely. The film follows the struggle of one Palestinian town, Bil’in, to stop an Israeli settlement’s constant encroachment on its land.
During March various cities and communities participate in Israeli Apartheid Week, a movement intended to call attention to and end Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians, making now an ideal time to watch such a movie.
Some of the issues in 5 Broken Cameras were things I had already been aware of, or at least were unsurprising. Soldiers approach peaceful protesters every time they congregate and shoot tear gas into the crowd, sometimes hitting people. While any construction built on Palestinian land by Israelis cannot be torn down, Palestinian constructions are afforded no such privilege. Israeli soldiers dress in plainclothes and act as peaceful Bil’in protesters to cause trouble; the film’s director realizes that is who the strangers are when they grab his brother and arrest him.
There was one tactic I hadn’t previously been aware of, though. About midway through the film, frustrated Israeli soldiers begin driving into Bil’in at night and arresting children. It’s unclear what crimes the kids are even being accused of, and the tactic is obviously a ploy to scare the villagers out of their weekly protests. By that point in the film Bil’in’s peaceful struggle had become a rallying point for activists both throughout and outside the West Bank.
No matter how much someone in Canada thinks he or she knows about Palestinians’ struggles, there are both atrocities and banal impositions on their freedom taking place every day, and there is no way for us to understand all of these things from the relative safety of North America. That is why Israeli Apartheid Week is so important, as is the BDS or boycott, divest, sanction campaign. These two movements seek to bring awareness and eventually an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel, and the inequality Palestinians live with on both sides of those borders.
Graphic: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf