Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? Seen as part of MIFF 2020 via their digital platform.
Musa Hadid, Mayor of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, is a man with a difficult job. Every day he is confronted with life in an effective war zone; street demonstrations and armed conflict with the Israeli Army. He needs to keep his constituents safe, and provide a response to these ongoing violations of sovereignty. When the bullets aren’t flying, he turns to an endless array of minor civil issues; everything from fixing the doors at the local school, to overseeing the demolition of a public toilet. He also has to plan a Christmas parade.
Director David Osit’s fascinating documentary is the portrait of a single man, that provides a snapshot of a region. Framing the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine via the day-to-day concerns of local government, connects the larger events to the everyday. The conflict, centuries old, with no end in sight, is usually portrayed as one of competing ideologies. The stuff of history. But the impact for the people who live in these areas, the regular civilians, is simply life under constant threat; you are not safe walking down the street, and do not know when armed soldiers will suddenly enter your business or residence. Trying to keep the municipal services running in the midst of this chaos, is quite a task.
The film also has a sharp sense of humour. Being mayor of Ramallah is like being a public servant anywhere; you also have to deal with office jargon, petty co-workers, bureaucracy run amuck. Especially funny is the ongoing discussion of the city’s recently adopted brand – ‘We Ramallah’ – and what purpose this actually serves; in one scene, there is a semantic argument about how it should even be spelled. And like all of these trivial debates, I have been dragged into many similar in offices over the years, there are two camps, and neither side will budge. Musa Hadid quips, ‘Perhaps we should all admit we don’t know what city branding is?’
Wearing a different hat, he travels all over the world, making his case that the Israeli occupation is illegal. At these moments he is passionate, but articulate; he makes his case for a cause he has dedicated himself to, and asks for help. He is not a member of a militia himself, and only deals with the outcomes of violence, rather than advocating for it; a kid asks him, ‘Which side are you, Fatah or Hamas?’ Neither, he replies pugnaciously. It does give you a hopeful sense of a different type of leader, and a new approach to tackling these long standing problems.
The film is like the man it portrays; it juggles a number of tones, and will make you laugh and give you something to consider. An engrossing look at life in a city under siege. And the Christmas Parade? Perfectly topped by an electric laser light fountain show, with music.
My last film from MIFF 2020, and I had a great time in isolation, experiencing a bunch of features and shorts. Really brightened a dreary time; on a personal level, many of these films, including this one, also gave some important perspective. We have a lot to be thankful for, living in Australia.