Ever wonder what’s involved in governing “a city without a country”? From local Christmas celebrations and relatable family moments, to dealing with the fallout of Israeli occupation, Mayor Musa Hadid of Ramallah, Palestine must grapple with playing an unprecedented role in his community.
Mayor Hadid’s Christmas celebration quest and humorous approach to life give us a refreshing take on a region of the world that is so often shrouded with violence, tragedy, and one-dimensional victimization in Western media’s portrayal.
Director Osit’s vision for the film was to “explore the city in a way it was unexplored before.” In order to feel as little like an outsider as possible, he did extensive research on the history of Ramallah. In the beginning, he was “filming information for [himself], rather than for scenes.” He found the city fascinating, with its hipster bars, nightclubs, and vaping mayor. Ramallah appears unique in that it is a predominantly Christian city within Palestine, with religious history dating back to the Ottoman empire – back then, if the city was Christian, the mayor had to be too. Jesus lived and died not too far away, and is literally a “hometown hero,” according to Osit. Although the mayor’s determination to pull off the city’s Christmas celebration is a focal point of the movie and an important personal goal, religious differences “didn’t matter much” to the residents, who all greet the mayor with affection in the film.
Osit notes, “My rubric was wrong. We’ve been conditioned in the west to think that this is a religious conflict, there are religious problems here, but this is a state that’s been occupied by a state, and the crisis here is people don’t have agency.” In spite of their location in a part of the world known for its religious conflict, the citizens of Ramallah have common purpose although they may have differences of faith.
Depicting the “banality of daily life” in Ramallah was a facet of creating Mayor that really excited the director. The audience isn’t viewing the city from the normal American lens of Palestine, and focusing on the banality makes the violence and tragedy of Israeli occupation more disturbing. By telling “a simple story in a complicated setting,” (the story of a mayor and his Christmas celebration) the violence that doesn’t fit into the frame stands out much more. Focusing on a story as small as possible was the goal: when you see the way the city reacts to the violence, and deals with it as if it were normal, you realize that while the occupation is a consistent presence in Ramallah, it doesn’t define people’s lives. The funny aspect of the film, fueled by Mayor Hadid’s natural humor, just serves to reinforce this message.
While coverage of this region often fill us with anger on behalf of what’s happening to innocent people, Osit wanted to “reject [the notion of] foie gras filmmaking and stuffing emotions down people’s throats rather than letting them decide” He asked, “What can I do that I haven’t seen before in a documentary about this part of the world? What can make me feel different?” Ultimately, if he could create a story for the viewer so that the next time they think of Palestine, they don’t think of one-dimensional victims of suffering but of people with dignity watching a water fountain show, that would be a victory. We felt that this essence of dignity was captured excellently in both the Mayor and the citizens of Ramallah. It will be available globally on January 21st, 2021, and we highly recommend everyone to watch.