Documentary filmmaker Guy Davidi spent years in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, near Ramallah, where the villagers were engaged in an ongoing protest against the Jewish settlements being built nearby, on disputed land. Throughout that time, he was in touch with farmer and activist Emad Burnat, who lives with his wife and four sons in Bil’in, and had been quietly documenting the political events taking place on a series of five video cameras. Though it took several years for Davidi to convince Burnat to collaborate on a film using Burnat’s footage, his persistance paid off and their film, “5 Broken Cameras,” was nominated Thursday as one of the five Best Documentary nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards.
The Times of Israel spent some time on the phone with Davidi on Sunday morning, talking about the questionable thrills of an Oscar nomination, and what it could mean for the dissemination of this controversial film.
Times of Israel: Congratulations. What does the nomination mean for you and Emad?
Guy Davidi: I don’t want to sound unrealistically modest: It’s a great opportunity for the film, a great opportunity to create change, but I was not completely surprised. We have good competition — I saw some of the other films that were shortlisted, and others that were not — and I really appreciate this acknowledgment of the inroads we have made so far. Professionally it’s a great achievement to be acknowledged like that, but what I’m dealing with is whether this film can cross boundaries. A lot of the media want to paint me as a provocateur and show that I don’t represent Israel [in my political opinions] and that’s not true. I want this film to be a gift to Israelis, to serve as an opportunity, and I think the quality of the film allows that. The media wants to show us as trying to be provocative and accusing Israel; we want to create dialogue and change.
ToI: How does it feel to be up against another Israeli documentary, “The Gatekeepers,” which is also on a difficult Israeli topic? Have you been in touch with “Gatekeepers” director Dror Moreh?
Davidi: I haven’t been in touch with Dror. It’s true that officially the films are close in subject in some ways. In other ways, they’re very different. I have to say that of the five films nominated, I find “5 Broken Cameras” to be closer to [Swedish/British nominee] “Searching for Sugar Man” than to “The Gatekeepers,” because while people want to associate us with the other Israeli film because of nationality and topic, what we have in common with “Sugar Man” is strong characters and a certain modesty, and there’s something much more common in the spirit of the two films.
ToI: Is this nomination a professional pinnacle for you, given that you’re a filmmaker in Israel, where the Academy Awards can feel very distant?
Davidi: Prior to the announcement of the nomination, I launched a campaign called “Bringing Five Broken Cameras to Israeli Youth.” For me, that’s the goal: what we can do in Israeli society, which is my territory. I want to create something positive in Israeli society — for me, education is everything. I find screening the film with youth is very challenging, but meaningful and fruitful, because these are the generations who will soon be serving in the army. So if we win the Oscar, that will have a direct consequence on being able to bring this film to Israeli youth. Winning an Oscar is probably the only thing that will put pressure on the Ministry of Education to show the film to Israeli youth. I don’t think a nomination will cut it. It’s a very challenging film politically, and I haven’t even received a call from them.
ToI: Is Emad [Burnat] elated by the nomination, or is it too distant a possibility for it to directly affect his life?
Davidi: That’s a great question. I think Emad wants to try to use the film in the next few years to create awareness, to create change regarding the nonviolent movement among Palestinians. People are not aware of the nonviolent movement in Palestinian society, even thought it’s been going on since 2005. He’s committed to bringing the film to communities around the world. He’s not a filmmaker; he’s a good cameraman and we worked together to create this, with my role as the storyteller. He doesn’t have the urge to do another film immediately. It’s his life, his story.
ToI: Do you think the film can effect change in Palestinian society?
Davidi: I think the film is challenging for Palestinian society and the Arab world because of the level of collaboration between the nonviolent movement and between me and Emad. I’m not just a producer or second director; I wrote the text and created the story line. “Collaborator” was a word of negativity, and I’m not speaking that language. I’m committed — and the film is committed — to stopping the occupation and to have a more concrete and a more sincere way of talking and not just idealizing the dialogue and speaking about coexistence without saying that the occupation has to be stopped. It’s easy for Palestinians to ignore the film by saying it’s just a film, it’s personal, it’s Emad. They tried not to deal with it; I’ve never even been interviewed in a Palestinian paper, but now that’s it’s been nominated, they will have to look at it and think about the issues.
ToI: There have been bloggers saying the film should have been a Palestinian nomination, not Israeli. Was that your decision to send it in as an Israeli, and not from Emad, the Palestinian?
Davidi: The documentary category of the Oscars is not by country; it’s a category that’s not based on nationality. In fact, there’re usually a lot of American films in the documentary category, and that has made it a more challenging category to be nominated for.
ToI: What would winning the Oscar do for your career?
Davidi: Winning does change your status. It’s easier to find funding and get support. On the other hand, you become a known figure and it’s more difficult to get people to trust you when you’re making a film. They will assume certain things about my intentions, the same way people make assumptions about “5 Broken Cameras” when actually it’s not such a judgmental film. I’m not just an activist; I deal with other subjects, too, and my intention is to do many different kinds of films in the future.
ToI: Are you going to the Oscars?
Davidi: Of course I’m going to go.
ToI: Will you wear a tuxedo?
Davidi: I don’t think I have much of a choice.