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Review: Ramallah ‘Mayor’ Musa Hadid lifts up his city amid ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict

The mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadid, seated in audience in the documentary "Mayor."
Musa Hadid in the documentary “Mayor.”
(Film Movement)

In many respects, Ramallah, located in Israel’s central West Bank about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, is a city like any other. Replete with new construction, hip bars and cafés, fast food joints, holiday festivities, electric car charging stations and considerable civic pride, it has become the seat of Palestinian government and a bustling cultural and commercial center.

What sets it apart, however, is that it operates without full autonomy within occupied territory, a highly restrictive consequence of the continual Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This ancient, if modern-looking city is also flanked by military checkpoints and surrounded by Israeli settlements.

For the record:

2:29 PM, Jan. 28, 2021This article incorrectly refers to Ramallah as being in Israel’s central West Bank. The West Bank is not part of Israel.

The immersive documentary “Mayor,” written and directed by David Osit (he also shot and co-edited) offers a compelling snapshot of the Palestine National Authority’s de facto capital by focusing on Ramallah’s mayor, Musa Hadid, a deeply dedicated, proactive and accessible leader who has helped unite and uplift his beloved city.

Osit takes a strictly observational approach as he captures the charismatic Hadid over the course of 20 busy months between 2017 and 2019 as the mayor puts out daily fires (sometimes literally) and presides over a notable series of actions and events. These include the city’s branding efforts (i.e., what to name the town’s centerpiece: a Las Vegas-style dancing fountain), an elaborate Christmas celebration, a gracious visit from Prince William, local fallout from President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (“The country will collapse,” Hadid asserts), and a cage-rattling raid by Israeli soldiers.

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Cameras also follow Hadid on diplomatic trips to the U.S., South Africa, Germany and England, which helps broaden the doc’s scope a bit.

Osit never interviews Hadid — or anyone else for that matter — head-on. Although consistent with the filmmaker’s fly-on-the-wall style, it feels like a missed opportunity. More background on Hadid’s earlier life and political ascendance would have also been welcome. Still, “Mayor” proves a unique, involving and edifying experience.

‘Mayor’

In Arabic and English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Available Dec. 2 via virtual cinemas; and Dec. 4 via Laemmle Virtual Cinema


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