Just north of Jerusalem in the West Bank is Ramallah, a city of just over 35,000 people and a predominantly Christian community in the middle of disputed Palestinian territory. The city is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and exists in a sort of bureaucratic limbo, a city without a country. Mayor, a documentary by David Osit (Thank you for Playing), chronicles the ordinary and extraordinary moments in the life of the city’s top office-holder, Musa Hadid. An affable, even-keel politician in charge of everything from the city’s new branding campaign to its big Christmas celebration to representing the city in the ever-evolving Israel/Palestine conflicts, his is a job with no time off, no manual and no guarantees.
In a purely observational style, Osit—who is also the film’s cinematographer—follows Hadid through his days tending to the business of the city, from the smallest needs of his citizens to the grandest political upheavals that happen to land on his doorstep. Through it all, Hadid remains committed to getting the job done, a public servant in every sense of the word. He’ll say hello to you on the street; he’ll put on a hard hat and hi-vis vest to join you on your construction site; he’ll reluctantly stay at your home for lunch when you insist he do so. This is not a man couched in handlers or committees doing the work for him, far from it. He’s at every meeting, some comical (as when his team tries to sell him on their new marketing idea for the city’s “brand”) and some quite stressful (as when he’s navigating how to respond to the Trump administration’s hasty decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem).
There isn’t necessarily a narrative in Mayor; this isn’t the story of Hadid’s election or the journey of a particular piece of legislation through the city’s formal halls of government. Instead, the film proposed to pull back the curtain on the day-to-day of a man just doing his best to serve his community in a city perhaps unlike any other. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems and no process is smooth. Every decision carries with it the weight of international politics, a decades-long struggle between nations and religions, plus the strong personalities of everyone involved. Danger quite literally lurks around every corner, and if any current event shapes the film’s narrative, it’s the lasting implications of the US Embassy’s move into nearby Jerusalem, a decision that emboldens Israeli forces to push into Ramallah and other Palestinian territory near by. One late-film scene in particular sees Hadid and his staff cornered in a building lobby as troops shoot their way through the city. Osit’s handheld camerawork is frenetic and urgent, capturing the tense moments as they unfold.
Even in its most tense moments, Mayor is, intentionally or not, darkly comic, something out of an Armando Iannucci movie if it weren’t really happening. In the midst of watching Israeli troops storm into the town square in front of City Hall, Hadid’s staff are urging him to start live-streaming from his vantage point nearby. Is there ever a bad moment for viral content? In modern politics, apparently not. It’s his dry sense of humor, or perhaps his ability to see everything as a serious decision, that keeps Hadid on track, always laser focused on what has to happen next to keep the wheels of government, strange as they are in his isolated, contested city, spinning one way or another. At the very least, Mayor is a welcome reminder that our day jobs could be much, much worse. At its best, the film captures both the frustrations and rewards of public service, how this work shapes a person and what it takes to keep showing up every day.
Mayor is now streaming via Music Box Theatre’s Virtual Cinema. A portion of your rental goes to support the theatre while it’s closed.