Monthly Archives: January 2021

“MAYOR”— The Mayor of Ramallah

“MAYOR”

The Mayor of Ramallah

Amos Lassen

 

 

In “Mayor” filmmaker David Osit,  gives us a real-life political saga following Musa Hadid, the liberal Christian mayor of Ramallah, during his second term in office. Ramallah is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and soldiers (I did my basic training there when I was in the Israel Defense Forces) and most people in Ramallah will never have the chance to travel more than a few miles outside their home. This is why Mayor Hadid is determined to make the city a beautiful and dignified place to live. His immediate goals include repaving the sidewalks, planning the town’s neon-bright Christmas celebrations, boosting tourism and avoiding gunfire from Israeli army activity. His ultimate mission is  to end the occupation of Palestine. The film is “a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country?”

Being a mayor is not easy and when one is the mayor of one of the most contested pieces of geography in modern history, the job is that much more difficult. Yet, Musa Hadid, who has presided over the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah since 2012 and has calmly and pragmatically gone about his business, concerned as much about park benches, sewage treatment and other routine municipal details as he is about the very future of his people.

The film was shot during the 2017 holiday season, when Ramallah, which has a minority Christian population was preparing for the festivities just as the Trump administration controversially announced it would be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What we see  is a study in politics both micro and macro, showing what happens when the two collide.

 “Every year, same chaos, same story,” the fifty-something Hadid admits at one particularly tough moment, when soldiers from the IDF have swarmed his city, going door-to-door to root out protesters and surveillance cameras in a sweeping demonstration of their occupational might. And yet, Until the point in the documentary when Israeli soldiers go door to door to root out protestors Ramallah resembles the any other mid-sized capital, with civic issues, Christmas tree lighting plans, cafés, fast-food restaurants and other things we don’t usually think about life in the Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since 1967.

Ramallah wants to be like other cities but cannot. It is surrounded by Israeli settlements and is dependent on Israeli approval for anything it undertakes. It is very close to Jerusalem, it has become one of the major places of the Middle Eastern crisis. There is major urban unrest whenever the conflict flares up.

The mayor somehow manages to maintain quite a level of composure and has had a great deal of energy. He really wants to make Ramallah a nice place to live. He seems to worry about the smallest things such as the quality of doors at a local elementary school celebrating the Christmas the tree-lighting ceremony.

This portrait of Hadid can be seen as a bit one-sided but we see him as he tries to stay in power. We might say that this more of a look at his position as mayor that it is of him as a person. Although Hadid needs to constantly wheel and deal to get the job done, in terms of the conflict he says that is about dignity.

 

He is steady so it seems reliable leadership is underrated. We see him at a staff meeting about the new marketing slogan that is part of a re-branding attempt for the city where the idea is beyond him. He’s much more comfortable discussing the Christmas celebration and more run-of-the-mill problems, like replacing old doors at a public school.

Larger forces are at work that will have profound effects on Palestine and, subsequently, Hadid. Following President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, tensions with the Israeli soldiers around Ramallah increased. When asked by international rights organizations about hosting talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, he loses his cool and lists the abuses Ramallah has suffered under the occupation. Some of the film’s most satisfying moments happen when he pushes back against the West, asking European visitors as to whether anyone in their home countries knows what has been happening here.

Ultimately, the film isn’t too biographical as we never learn anything about Hadid’s political career before he became mayor, and both he remains a distant figure. We do see his leadership style and today when there are so many leaders that are driven by their egos, this is refreshing.  

BONUS FEATURES

 

·       Commentary by Director David Osit

·       Deleted Scenes

 

About Film Movement

 

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

 

“Shuggie Bain: A Novel” by Douglas Stuart— A Boy’s Story

Stuart, Douglas. “Shuggie Bain: A Novel”,Grove Atlantic, 2020.

A Boy’s Story

Amos Lassen

Hugh “Shuggie” Bain is a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood living in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. His mother Agnes is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She  is a dreamer who thinks of her house and orders happiness through catalogues using credit. Shuggie’s father is a philandering taxi-driver yet Agnes manages to keep her pride by looking good. However, beneath the surface, Agnes uses drink for solace and she drinks away most of each week’s benefits that the family has to live on. Her older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother and leave Shuggie to care for her as he is struggling to somehow become the normal boy he so wants to be, but everyone has realized that he is “no right,” a boy with a secret that everyone but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction clouds everyone close to her.

Douglas Stuart’s first novel is a story of addiction, sexuality, and love is an look at a working-class family that we rarely see in fiction. We are taken into “a marginalized, impoverished community in a bygone era of British history. It’s a desperately sad, almost-hopeful examination of family and the destructive powers of desire.”

This novel is as much about Glasgow as it is about Shuggie and his mother and it is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It is a dysfunctional love story in which every attempt to thrive is ruined; a portrait of both a family and a place during the decline of the Thatcher years yet it is tender and unsentimental.

Stuart’s exploration of a mother-son relationship and look at alcoholism in Scottish working class life is told with lyrical realism. We feel the author’s love for his characters and he makes them unforgettable and touching.

“A Night at the Sweet Gum Head: Drag, Drugs, Disco, and Atlanta’s Gay Revolution” by Martin Padgett— A Look at Gay Atlanta

Padgett, Martin. “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head: Drag, Drugs, Disco, and Atlanta’s Gay Revolution”,W.W. Norton, 2021.

A Look at Gay Atlanta 

Amos Lassen

One of the books I have been waiting for is Martin Padgett’s history of 1970s gay Atlanta,  “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head: Drag, Drugs, Disco, and Atlanta’s Gay Revolution”.  

Gay Atlanta was the South’s mecca―a place for gays and lesbians from homophobic towns and cities. The Sweet Gum Head was the club to become a drag star. Padgett takes us through the history of the club and introduces us to two men who found a home and Atlanta and who Atlanta found a home in them. John Greenwell, an Alabama performed as Rachel Wells; and Bill Smith addressed the antigay laws of the city. Gay people faced police harassment on a daily basis and there was drug dealing and murder in their discos and clubs. Padgett had interviews with many of the major figures and researched gay archives to re-create Atlanta from the time when a new queer culture of drag and pride began. The book contains 8 pages of illustrations

 

 

 

“WORKHORSE QUEEN”— An Unlikely Start

 

“WORKHORSE QUEEN” 

An Unlikely Start

Amos Lassen

After an unlikely casting onto a reality television show, 47-year old suburban telemarketer Ed Popil leaves his job to pursue a full-time entertainment industry career as his drag queen alter ego, 1960’s era housewife Mrs. Kasha Davis.

“WORKHORSE QUEEN” is an intimate exploration, through a tender mix of touching moments and wise-cracking humor, of the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture? Told from the perspective of the overlooked yet beloved Queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, WORKHORSE QUEEN focuses on the growing divide between members of a small town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not. 

 

Director Angela Washko’s directorial debut follows Mrs. Kasha Davis as she navigates the exciting highs and devastating lows of pursuing the fame promised by a reality television platform. With one foot inching toward Hollywood’s doorstep and the other cemented firmly within her beloved Rochester community, Mrs. Kasha Davis finds a surprising new audience at home as she works toward becoming the queer role model for children that Ed didn’t have and desperately wanted growing up.

 

“It has been an incredible journey documenting Ed Popil/Mrs. Kasha Davis, said Washko. “He stood out to me because it felt like there was so much more to his story and he represented a larger community of drag queens who don’t quite fit the mold of what reality television wants from its participants.”

 

In addition to Mrs. Kasha Davis, the film also includes the voices and perspectives of drag queen celebrities who have been on RuPaul’s Drag Race, such as superstar Bianca Del Rio, Darienne Lake, Tatianna, and Pandora Boxx, as well as leaders in subversive performance communities around the world, and drag queens who reject or who have been rejected by the reality tv platform. 

 

WORKHORSE QUEEN will hold its World Premiere at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival, with fest play to continue throughout the year.

“Ezekiel: From Destruction to Restoration” by Tova Ganzel— A Fascinating Look at a Difficult Book

Ganzel, Tova. “Ezekiel: From Destruction to Restoration”, Maggid, 2021.

A Fascinating Look at a Difficult Book

Amos Lassen

I have always found the book of Ezekiel to be difficult reading but after reading Tova Ganzel’s wonderful illumination of it, I can now approach it in a whole new way. Ezekiel ,the prophet, wrote from a perspective that is quite unique in that he was living in exile, in Babylonia yet he is constantly aware and reminded of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and seems to lament it constantly. He rebukes the past yet he feels comforted by his ideas of the future redemption of the Jewish people.

It is obvious that Ganzel knows her Ezekiel and takes her through an intense study of the prophet and his life looking at all aspects of the book from its literary style to historical context to the prophecies and thoughts of destruction and ideas of redemption. The book of Ezekiel is filled with mystical ideas and unique literary figures of speech. There is a great deal of symbolism and the language is often difficult replete with allegory and parables. His ideas of a rebuilt temple differs from the temples that came before. It there a significance to this? His life spanned from before the temple to fifteen years after its destruction and was the first to prophesy outside of the land of Israel. Interesting enough is that what he had to say back then still is relevant today. His messages are about laws something that other prophets did not do.

“My Brother the Messiah” by Martin Vopenka—- The Near Future

Vopenka, Martin. “My Brother the Messiah”, translated by Anna Gustava Bryson, Barbican, 2021.

The Near Future

Amos Lassen

One of the books that I have been looking forward to is Czech writer Martin Vopneka’s, “My Brother the Messiah”. It is set in 2096 when Europe is suffering a drought and is badly in need of rain. Instead, it gets Eli who is born near Prague and his birth is heralded by a rainstorm. Unfortunately Eli dies young and there are questions as to whether he was ever real. His brother, Marek, is an old man now and he works hard to circulate Eli’s teachings. A young woman joins Marek’s community and the two begin an intimate relationship but the world is falling apart and intimacy is a luxury.

Vopěnka explores many pressing issues of the near future in this beautifully written yet terrifying tale of a future that may not be as distant we think.

” Illuminating Jewish Thought: Faith, Philosophy and Knowledge of God” by Rabbi Natanel Wiederblank— Believing in God

Wiederblank, Rabbi Natanel. “ Illuminating Jewish Thought: Faith, Philosophy and Knowledge of God”, Maggid, 2021.

Believing in God

Amos Lassen

A good subtitle to Rabbi Natanel Wiederblank’s “Illuminating Jewish Thought” would be simply, “Why?”. We consider questions such as if we can prove that God exists, and if we can’t, why should we believe? What must we believe and what if we don’t? What does the Torah say about the age of the universe? Why study philosophy? What is machshava (thought)? By carefully studying traditional Jewish sources and considering their application to timeless and contemporary problems, we attempt here to get answers to these questions. The answers are in the Torah but they are not explicit. Studying Torah teaches us to think, we must dig and discern and we are often befuddled by the holy writings. Somewhere there is a guide to living a meaningful religious life but we must dig to reveal the theological foundations of Jewish faith.

Divided into four major parts beginning with “Machshava,” which is defined as “non-halachic parts of Oral Law,” or non-legal thoughts of Jewish tradition. According to Rabbi Wiederblank these include aggada, philosophy, and mysticism. Each of these is important and each contributes to Jewish thought. To truly understand, we must study all three. In this part, we learn about the thoughts of Maimonides, mystics, and rabbis on these subjects. The second part of the book aggada or non-legal portions of the Talmud. These are stories, parables, history, non-legal ideas, etc. The two other parts of the book are about  with belief in and knowing God, and view of what it means to do so.

This is a mystical approach to the Jewish religion but one does not need a background in mysticism to understand it. Rationality is also included but from the opinion of the author.
Here we get an elucidation and illumination of the incomprehensible by the combination of the belief in God with philosophical schools of thought.

“Exodus: A Parsha Companion” by Rabbi David Fohrman— New Ways to Investigate Torah

Fohrman, Rabbi David. “Exodus: A Parsha Companion”, AlephBeta, Maggid, 2021.

New Ways to Investigate Torah

Amos Lassen

“Exodus: A Parsha Companion” is second volume of Parsha Companions written by Rabbi David Fohrman in which he delves into the biblical text, asking intriguing questions and finds patterns that, once seen them, seem totally obvious. These commentaries are innovative and completely fascinating and have become part of my go-to library. I find myself consulting the book before each Torah study and service that I attend. Rabbi Fohrman gives us the opportunity to see so much more than we might have expected.

This is a beautiful training to look for detail and in doing so, we find so much more than we usually do. We learn to listen to what is written, research the words we read and discover new meanings and I can tell you that on a personal level, I have found myself engaged in discussions that I have never had before. We approach the text through questions that soon become basic. I especially have learn to enjoy  finding what is common in Moses’s narratives and rereading the Jewish interpretation of slavery. Writing that we once interpreted to mean one thing soon has much deeper meanings. Words are of the utmost importance and we look at their meanings and appearances in the holy texts. I also learned to discern patterns in the Torah. In the first volume, I was amazed at the use of the chiastic structure in the Akeda and when I was called upon to deliver a dvar Torah on it and presented it to my temple, I watched people stare in amazement. Without Rabbi Fohrman’s guidance, I would have overlooked this altogether.

We explore obscure and questionable issues in the Book of Exodus and as we do, we come to understand the real meaning that each parsha brings to us and we do so in enlightening ways.  Fohrman’s commentaries not only come out of his own ideas but also from classic commentators and midrash. often based on his own ideas or ancient Midrashim and classical Bible commentaries. I cannot say that I always agree with what he says but I do gain new ideas to think about.  

 

“America’s Next Top Stripper” by Matt Converse— “Who Will Win And Who will Survive?”

Converse, Matt. “America’s Next Top Stripper”, Edition Encompass Ink, 2021.

“Who Will Win And Who will Survive?”

Amos Lassen

Former male stripper, Matt is asked to host “America’s Next Top Stripper”, a new show and to be a judge along with a supermodel and a drag queen. The competition is fierce with ten good-looking and sexy men vying for the title. Matt realizes that he has a crush on Ace and knows that he must not show bias. As the shows go on, one man is eliminated each week. When we reach the final five challengers, however, things turn dark and we are a thrust into a thriller that keeps us reading as quickly as possible.

I am amazed at the structure of the novel as it moves from chapter to chapter, pulling us in. There is a murderer in the pages of this book and we constantly think about who it is. I also loved getting a look at the life of strippers and how they live. We see how difficult it is for Matt to retire and how lucky he is to get one more chance in the world of men who doff their clothes for the pleasure of others. We start what we believe is going to be a fun read and realize that this is so much more than that. The writing flows as does the mystery. This is a great diversion during which you can leave Corona behind.

“Why New Orleans Matters” by Tom Piazza— Looking at New Orleans

Piazza, Tom. “Why New Orleans Matters”,  Harper Perennial, 2015.

Looking at New Orleans

Amos Lassen

“Why New Orleans Matters” was republished ten years after Hurricane Katrina and is an appraisal of a city in crisis. A new afterword puts the story of New Orleans in the context of the ongoing threat to America’s coastal populations.

Since Katrina devastated the city, Americans have learned much from the resilience of the citizens yet, even as the city has regained some of strength, other regions around the country continue to be battered by hurricanes, snow and ice storms, and massive weather events like the storm Sandy, which devastated the mid-Atlantic coast seven years later. 

When first published just months after the storm, thebook washailed as a passionate and eloquent celebration of the city as both a cultural center and a home to millions of residents from varied walks of life. Piazza, a longtime New Orleans resident, gave his readers the “rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking, but also examined its deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice, and explored how its people endure and transcend those conditions. Perhaps most important”. He further asked that we all, as Americans, think about  our shared responsibility to New Orleans and all the things it has shared with the world with “its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.”

In the years since its first publication, Piazza has continued to explore the story of New Orleans and its people in many ways in other ways. He revisits “Why New Orleans Matters” and, in an all-new foreword for this edition, re-examines the story of Katrina as a cautionary tale for a nation that has too often neglected both its treasures and its people. He evokes the culture and still-evolving future of the city and examines the city’s undercurrents of corruption and racism, and explains how its people endure and get beyond them. He looks at the challenges that New Orleans still faces—and reminds us that people in threatened communities across America have much to learn from New Orleans’ disaster and recovery.