A quietly illuminating work centred on a mayor in Palestine faced by many special issues.




David Osit's highly regarded documentary started shooting in 2017 when Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah in Palestine, had just been re-elected for a second term. He is a man who believes that local governance is of real importance because municipal services impinge so significantly on the people. In part Mayor illustrates this by showing all the ordinary day-to-day matters that require his attention from maintaining school buildings to arrangements for lighting a tree for Christmas (Hadid is among the 25% of the city's population who are Christians). But, alongside all of this, Hadid is inevitably confronted by the special circumstances that have pertained in Ramallah ever since it fell within the territory occupied by the Israelis in 1967. It was during the filming of Mayor that President Trump infuriated the Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem - a mere ten miles from Ramallah - as the capital of Israel. Protests followed, as did an increase in aggravation in the city on the part of the Israeli army (towards the end of the film we see Hadid trapped inside the City hall as the military invade a nearby café, one seen three times in the movie - its name, the Café de la Paix, taking on conscious irony).


Osit's film may have Hadid at its centre but the approach is strictly observational: no commentary, no interviews for the camera and precious little information about Hadid himself (the glimpses we get of his family are brief indeed). There is just one moment when Hadid acknowledges Osit's presence (he was the photographer as well as being director and producer): the mayor asks if other countries are in ignorance about conditions in Ramallah. At one stage Hadid is seen in a montage visiting other countries (Britain included) to talk about the situation in Ramallah and it is surely the case that he agreed to this film being made in order to promote knowledge of what life is like for its citizens.


That is a worthy mission and one that makes it only right that one should praise the film which, shot in 'Scope, does succeed in conveying everything vividly. At the same time, I was not swept up by it. By telling us so little about Hadid's personal life, Mayor does not give us any deep impression of the man beyond the obvious good intentions that invite our approval. There is too an awkward opening sequence with surprisingly saccharine music for easy appeal mixed with some distracting shots that are all too typical of shooting in handheld 'Scope. Both of these aspects quickly improve and the film is effective in making the building of a new fountain a topic which comes up at intervals and can then provide a note of hope at the close. Overall, though, however horrifying the conditions shown, the film's tone is one of sympathetic observance. Anger may well be a justified response and, indeed, Osit may have felt that: nevertheless, anger, which could have been expressed without falling into rhetoric or melodrama, is something that the film does not communicate. Even so, its absence does not seriously reduce the value of the film since the facts largely speak for themselves.




Featuring  Musa Hadid.


Dir David Osit, Pro David Osit, Ph David Osit, Ed David Osit and Eric Daniel Metzgar, Music Geinoh Yamashirogumi, David Osit and Sam Thompson.


Rise Films/Rosewater Pictures-Dogwoof.
89 mins. USA/UK. 2020. Rel: 1 January 2021. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12.