Two different but not unrelated documentaries recently have come to DVD, courtesy of Kino Lorber and Kino Classics. One is current, and in fact is a Best Documentary Academy Award nominee. The other was made 43 years ago.
5 BROKEN CAMERAS, the Oscar contender, is a profoundly personal chronicle of non-violent resistance in a small West Bank village whose citizens feel displaced in the face of developing Israeli settlements. Most of the images in the film were shot by Emad Burnat, a farmer who has spent his entire life in the village and who purchased a camera in 2005 to document the birth of his youngest son.
On one level, 5 BROKEN CAMERAS is a visual diary that records the lives of Burnat and his family during a five-year period, but it also is a history of his village and the anger and frustration of its residents. In a broader sense, it is the story of everyday individuals who might reside anywhere in the world. All they want is to go about their daily lives and live in peace. But tragically, because of the politics of the region, this is not to be.
As I watched 5 BROKEN CAMERAS, I kept asking myself over and over: Will the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East ever be resolved? And given the specifics of what happens onscreen, I also kept asking: Why does violence inevitably enter the picture?
Sadly, it was violence that ended the all-too-brief life of one of the 20th-century’s foremost Americans: a man who preached nonviolence, even in the wake of a growing militancy among his people. The man in question is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the documentary is KING: A FILMED RECORD... MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS, which dates from 1970: just two years after Dr. King’s assassination.
All you really need to know about the content of this moving three-hour-long film is revealed at the beginning, when the viewer is told that it “documents the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1955 to 1968. It does not purport to cover all of the incidents of that period. The events have been chosen for their historical importance and for the impact they have had on our lives.”
KING: A FILMED RECORD...MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS consists primarily of footage of the events of the period, from the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of the mid-1950s to Dr. King’s stirring “I have a dream” speech which capped the 1963 March on Washington-- and beyond. This film is well-worth revisiting for several reasons. It is American history come-to-life. It is a history that should not be obscured by the passage of time. It offers a portrait of a great man who was justifiably angered by injustice yet who insisted on fighting hatred with non-violent protest. Lastly, and most specifically, it is a sobering reminder of what once was readily accepted in our country. That is that, in some circles, black Americans were viewed as sub-human-- and were treated as such.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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