What I’ve been watching: Morgan Morris

What I’ve been watching: Morgan Morris

Director: David Osit
Year: 2020

‘MAYOR’ is almost the antithesis to ‘What Walaa Wants’, the 2018 doccie on a strong-minded young woman trying to forge her own path – in the face of her family’s objections – in a refugee camp on the West Bank. If on the surface the bustling, modern city of Ramallah seems worlds away from Walaa’s home, it also sits on the same strip of land occupied by Israel since 1967. Replete with its own Popeye’s, the city serves as the de facto capital of the Palestinian people. And it’s easy to imagine that this isn’t that Middle East.

A genteel deception, ‘MAYOR’ lures us further into with its opening music and shot of a brightly lit restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in New York or any leading European city, as its name, named Café de la Paix, suggests. But a rude awakening will follow in this documentary in which Mayor Musa Hadid tries, almost absurdly, to balance ‘normalcy with the fact that he lives in a city under occupation. Israeli settlements loom large even if they aren’t seen. Security forces are never absent for too long.

Wiseman-style, the film tracks Hadid as he goes about mundane duties: overseeing meetings, splitting hairs with designers over Ramallah’s branding, putting out literal fires, agonising over the city’s Christmas tree (a quarter of the city’s occupants are Christian), and prepares for the opening of a bright and beautiful new community fountain. That’s when he isn’t hosting German diplomats and Prince William, or – fleetingly in the film – doing international goodwill rounds himself. But if that sounds humdrum, the film’s climactic sequence shows us Hadid trapped in his municipal building while outside, in streets lined with Christmas trees and hip restaurants, stone-throwing youths take on Israeli security forces.

‘MAYOR’ will likely not convince you to change sides (whichever side you find yourself on), but it will remind you that the world, the Middle East included, can be painfully complex and even amusing. Available on iTunes.

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