In 2005 a Palestinian farmer named Emad Burnat got a camera to make home videos of his new son, Gibreel. As the Israeli army takes land from his village, his friends and neighbors protest. Emad makes sure that he is always there to film the conflict. The non-violent protests are often met with tear gas and violence. Throughout the film Emad’s cameras are destroyed in these protests five times, but unlike friends and family, cameras are easily replaced.
5 Broken Cameras is a very raw and honest film. Emad is just a family man with a camera, no seasoned filmmaker. Yet, he captures the heart and strife of this conflict, risking his own life many times to bear witness to the injustice done upon his village. Besides tense and intense moments of protesting, we get to see Emad’s friends and family and how the conflict so obviously affects them. As the conflict goes on, we see his sons grow within it, their innocence waning. Throughout the five years, we see fear, determination, small victories, heartbreaking casualties, and little Gibreel grow from a baby to a boy hardened but still bringing light into his world.
How to Survive a Plague
While not really a blatant How-To film, How to Survive a Plague chronicles actions and protests of two groups, ACT UP and TAG, with footage taken through the late 1980s to mid 1990s. In the beginning of the film, AIDS is a spreading disease that comes with a death sentence. Many of the activists carry the virus and fight for their lives. There are many protests, most outside hospitals and government buildings. Though they’re peaceful, authorities are often called in to shut them down, sometimes with force.
The conflict in the film stems from the fact that the government doesn’t treat AIDS as a priority. It seems to be chastised, ignored and a seen as only a problem for the gay community. It takes years of protests and aggressively getting the information out to the world that brings the AIDS epidemic into the spotlight and a priority to study.
Though most of the film takes place within my lifetime, I can only remember one main event, and it was one of the most emotionally powerful in the film. In school, I remember teachers telling us about the giant AIDS quilt being laid out in Washington and how each square was dedicated to a victim of the disease. As a kid, it astounded me that so many people had died from AIDS, but I had no real perspective on how many lives it had claimed. Now watching this documentary as an adult, I’m infuriated that it took so long to get adequate research and development for a descent drug to fight AIDS. It was a plague, and the activists in this film show us that in order to let some survive it, you must fight hard from all angles and never give up.
The Invisible War
Told mostly in interviews, The Invisible War shares stories of women who have served in the United States military and were sexually assaulted during their service. While all these women once had dreams of honor and prestige while serving their country, we see them in the aftermath of brutality that has left them all scarred. Worst of all, the military’s judicial system is corrupt, hardly punishing any rapists and leaving the women without justice.
I believe this film received nomination because of its important and brave subject matter. Not all the women interviewed are recent veterans. In fact, there is even a man, now in his fifties or sixties, who tells his tale of being brutally raped. Sexual abuse in the military has been a constant issue in the US military. Even after reprimand, the issue was repeatedly swept under the rug, and this film does a great service by bringing it out into the indisputable spotlight. Though I don’t see this film winning the Oscar, I believe it is important for all US citizens to see, especially those involved in or aspiring to join the military.
Searching for Sugar Man
The film starts out as partially a mystery and partially an informative narrative about a musician named Rodriguez. Though he played all around Detroit in the 1970s, it seems that no one knows much about Rodriguez, his music or if he is even alive. In the US, it his career never took off. However, in South Africa, we see that his music is popular and even helped spark revolution.
*Warning, spoilers ahead* When we find Rodriguez, he is a simple and humble man, very surprised to find out what an influence he is in South Africa. As he journeys there to visit and play for his fans, we see what a natural performer Rodriguez is and a welcome he could have never imagined. The film becomes very uplifting and is filled with Rodriguez’s amazing music.
Shown through interviews and small recreations, The Imposter tells the story of a family searching for a boy who was lost at thirteen years old and a young man in Europe trying to find a new identity. The family is that of Nicholas Barclay, a young teen in Texas who went missing in 1994. From the interviews, we see that the family are lackluster small town people genuinely wanting Nicholas home. They get a call from Spain in 1997 saying that Nicholas has been found. However, the young man who claims to be Nicholas is not at all who he seems to be.
The film focuses our imposter, Frédéric Bourdin. We get most of the story from his mouth, detailing his plan from the start, how he found out about Nicholas, how the family reacted to him and more. As much as I wanted to despise Bourdin for carrying this terrible lie so far, his point of view and style of storytelling makes the film very intriguing and I found him an almost likeable character.
Of the five documentaries, I found The Imposter the most enjoyable to watch. The story is exciting and unfolds like a mystery with a few unexpected turns along the way in this unbelievably true story.