Mayor

Mayor

2020, NR, 89 min. Directed by David Osit.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 4, 2020

Musa Hadid is like any mayor of any midsize city. It's not a well-paid job, there are a lot of meetings of little substance, and he's more famous than he is influential. He's a former civil engineer who sort of backed into local politics, and now he sits in, befuddled, in conference rooms discussing city branding.

What makes Hadid more than a regular local politician, and adds weight to observational documentary Mayor, is where he is mayor of: The city of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian National Authority.

It would be easy for Mayor to lean into didactic drama, but what makes it so fascinating is that it doesn't just reiterate the vision of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that we expect: occupation, strike, counterstrike, human rights abuses. It's the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts story of life in Palestine, but even then not the same story of life in camps that have dominated the conversation. Ramallah looks like a cool little college town, a historic city with a burgeoning economy and fun nightlife. Hadid is the guy who spends his time worrying about ill-fitting doors at the local college, and the specifics of how the Santas will descend during the Christmas tree lighting. But how can you get the free wi-fi up when your neighbors keep firing teargas at schoolkids?

Director David Osit returns to the subject of Muslim-Christian relations, previously viewed through the topic of Manhattan's Sharif El-Gamal community center in his 2010 short documentary "Building Babel" (the difference this time being that Palestine is integrated, and Hadid himself is Christian – and clearly frustrated about his faith being used as a prop by American politicians scoring points with Evangelicals). Much as with the story of the "Ground Zero Mosque," his film is about coexistence thrown into chaos by needless controversy. The turning point in Mayor is an off-screen event: President Trump's pointless, contentious, and pandering 2017 decision to announce that the U.S. will treat Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As a result of protests against emboldened Israeli forces, Ramallah is on fire, and Hadid is in charge of finding the right size of fire hose.

While understated and deeply personal, Mayor cannot avoid the current conflagration in the region. It doesn't explicitly take sides: not that it needs to, since Hadid's quest for a normal life is the most heroic position imaginable. Much as with a visit from Prince William, he astutely uses this film to present the Ramallah that is so often ignored. If only he could spend more time working on tourism brochures than thanking maintenance workers for cleaning up after the latest Israeli army break-in.

Mayor is available as a Virtual Cinema release.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Mayor
Leffingwell Unveils Staff
Leffingwell Unveils Staff
Gives it a stroke in press release

Wells Dunbar, June 10, 2009

Buttross Delivers
Buttross Delivers
Mayoral also-ran's wife bears child day after election

Wells Dunbar, May 11, 2009

More Mayor
The Road to 10-1: 78 Candidates!
The Road to 10-1: 78 Candidates!
So many candidates, so little time

Michael King, Aug. 22, 2014

More Films
About Hope
Religious romantic drama about finding your moral core through love (natch)

Jan. 22, 2021

American Skin
Payback for police shootings in this violent drama

Jan. 22, 2021

More by Richard Whittaker
Austin Makes <i>Moviemaker</i>'s List of Best Places for Filmmakers
Austin Makes Moviemaker's List of Best Places for Filmmakers
But where in the rankings did it land?

Jan. 26, 2021

New Road Trip Drama Travels into <i>No Man's Land</i>
New Road Trip Drama Travels into No Man's Land
The filmmaking Allyn brothers see Mexico through a new lens

Jan. 22, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Mayor, David Osit

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle