A trio of docs are among this weekend’s new specialty offerings. Kino Lorber Films’ 5 Broken Cameras began when a Palestinian farmer decided to record Israeli soldiers in his village over a number of years and recruited an Israeli to pull the footage together into a film. First Run Features’ Pink Ribbons, Inc. takes a critical look at an organization that has been a leader in the fight against breast cancer, but some wonder whether it has lost sight of its primary purpose. And just in time for June’s round of gay pride events in the U.S., Wish Me Away captures the emotional “coming out” of country music star Chely Wright who tapped a pair of documentary filmmakers to chronicle the lead-up to her public acknowledgement on network television.
5 Broken Cameras
Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
Writer: Guy Davidi
Distributor: Kino Lorber Films
Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat captured years of footage in his village and contacted filmmaker Guy Davidi to compile a film based on events he recorded in his village, centering on two friends who staged non-violent resistance against the Israeli army. Burnat was initially hesitant to take on the proposal because he thought the topic had “already been done,” but then changed his mind. ” I offered Emad the idea to make a personal film telling not just the story [about] his two friends and the peaceful protest, but also the story of himself as a camera man,” Davidi said. Sponsorship came via the European Union initially, followed by ITVS as well as an Israeli cinema fund, while a pair of French TV producers came on board. “The rest of the finance was set by Israeli Television and more international funds and some pre-sales,” added Davidi.
Burnat shot more than 700 hours of footage for what eventually became 5 Broken Cameras as well as an additional 300 hours from others. Davidi, who is Israeli, said he and Burnat confronted a cultural divide creating the film and he, perhaps not surprisingly, faced challenges at home. “I will be judged without mercy by different people with different approaches, not just by the expected right-wing or even average Israelis but even by those who have closer ideological identification,” said Burnat. “This means that when you do this film you are walking on thin ice, and you have to think of every decision so you can take full responsibility later on.”
A well-known organization that fights breast cancer may seem the last likely subject for a critical eye, but that is exactly the case in doc Pink Ribbons, Inc. “I read an article by Barbara Ehrenreich, Welcome To Cancerland,” said executive producer Ravida Din. ”I loved her critique of the breast cancer culture that we’ve all become complicit in creating, and her own personal experience … led me to discover Samantha King’s book and that in turn gave me an interesting framework from which I could consider a documentary.” Fully financed by the National Film Board of Canada, Din insisted the film focus on the King book.
“The first ‘run’ we shot was the Komen Run in Washington,” said Devin. “I did not see a single reference to the words ‘breast cancer’. The complete erasure of anything that even hinted at how deadly the disease was quite insidious and in my opinion in keeping with the pink culture that companies have created.” First Run Features will open Pink Ribbons, Inc. this weekend in New York with other key markets to follow.
Country music star Chely Wright stumbled on filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf by chance when she noticed a poster of their previous work Be Real (which aired on Logo) in a publicist’s office in New York. She had planned to come out of the closet publicly, but met with the filmmakers about doing a documentary. “We did some quick homework, recognized some of her hit songs, discovered many more, and began filming her right away,” Birleffi and Kopf said via email. “We had come into her life after her near-suicide, but before she really knew what her plan was to come out or the toll it would take on her. Our job would be to follow the process — which we did for nearly three years.”
Unfortunately, the economic crisis also coincided with Wright’s unfolding coming out story, which made financing an extra challenge. Plus Wright had not actually come out, so the filmmakers could not disclose the full details of their project to groups that might have awarded grants because they had to abide by their agreement not disclose her identity. “Instead, we put together an LLC and sought out private investors. We put together a 17-minute fund-raising tape and slowly but surely, we began to gather committed investors, one at a time. The money was raised in phases.”
While shooting, Birleffi and Kopf also got into some spats with their main subject. Wright has an estranged relationship with her conservative mother, but the filmmaking duo decided to speak with the woman before Wright came out on The Today Show in May 2010. “It is always a high wire act to balance the integrity of the film with the individuals or subjects who have opened their lives in good faith to the filmmaker. Also, because Chely had become a very accomplished hider, it took time and patience to gain her trust,” they said. Once it was finished, Wish Me Away traveled the festival circuit and will have its theatrical run starting this weekend in New York and LA on June 15th followed by more cities “large and small” throughout the summer. It will also be available through iTunes beginning June 1st. “We are working with John Murphy PR, who has been spearheading a national PR and marketing campaign. Because Chely Wright is actively participating in promoting this film, John has been able to get her quite a lot of national visibility, both within the gay community and in mainstream media as well.”