By Noah Browning
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Oscar-nominated documentary "5 Broken Cameras" screened for Palestinians for the first time on Monday, leaving locals hopeful that their struggle with Israel for land and statehood will gain a global audience.
The low-cost film is based on five years of amateur camera work by journalist Emad Burnat as he documented weekly protests against land seizures by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in his village of Bil'in in the occupied West Bank.
Neighbors are killed in the protests and demolition equipment mars the landscape while the filmmaker captures his infant son's rapid loss of innocence, heralded by his first words: "wall" and "army."
"This is a film for those who were martyred. It's bigger than me and bigger than Bil'in. More than a billion people follow the Oscars and they will know our struggle now," Burnat said after the viewing.
His work will compete at next month's Oscar ceremony against four other films, including a documentary called "The Gatekeepers" that looks at the decades-old Middle East conflict through the eyes of six top former Israeli intelligence bosses.
Although the perspective is very different, both movies share a surprisingly similar message -- the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is morally wrong and must end.
Burnat's film received a standing ovation at its premier in Ramallah, the Palestinians' administrative capital, with the audience excited to see their seemingly endless conflict splashed on the big screen.
"The film shows the whole world what occupation is. It wiped the happiness off the boy's face at too young an age. This has been the experience for all of us," said taxi driver Ahmed Mustafa, who brought his wife and child to the viewing
"It's not all bad though. It shows that there is progress, there are victories, and that our cause is still alive and moving," he said.
In 2007, Israel's High Court ruled that the separation barrier built on Bil'in lands was illegal and ordered it rerouted, cheering activists. The ruling was finally implemented in 2011, but the protests continue.
Humble villagers in black-and-white chequered Palestinian scarves and smartly dressed city dwellers shared the same visceral reaction to scenes in the film that are much chronicled but seldom appear in feature-length film.
A shot of olive trees reduced to glowing embers after being torched by Jewish settlers coaxes an audible gasp from viewers.
"Oh God!" said one man.
But as Burnat's camera captures defiant chants in the protagonists' village accent, or rocks being hurled at fleeing Israeli jeeps, ecstatic applause filled the hall.
The film was co-directed by an Israeli activist and filmmaker, Guy Davidi. This close association has led some people to classify 5 Broken Cameras as an Israeli movie and it was rejected by a Morocco film festival for this reason.
However, Burnat said it had been shown in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries and denied that the joint production reflected any meaningful "normalization" of relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
"(Davidi) is a solidarity activist who came to the village to show his support. He was shown our material and agreed to help. This doesn't represent Israeli-Palestinian collaboration," Burnat said.
But the film's action shows many examples of cooperation between Israeli solidarity activists and locals.
An Israeli photographer gives Burnat one of his five cameras, which are progressively shot or crushed in protests over the years, giving the film its name, and Israeli solidarity activists are shown helping to plan protests in Hebrew.
"Working jointly with an Israeli doesn't diminish this work, it enhances it," Palestinian student Amira Daood told Reuters.
"They're not all against us. Some are opposed to what Israel is doing and the movie demonstrates that," she said.
(Reporting By Noah Browning, editing by Paul Casciato)