Page 1751 - Week 06 - Thursday, 3 June 2021

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young woman who wants to be a police officer for the Palestinian authority. In 2019 they screened Advocate, a gritty story of Jewish human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, who regularly represents Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli courts.

Last Friday they screened Mayor. This is a darkly funny portrait following a public servant doing his best in an impossible situation, that of trying to govern a city without a country. The curator said, “We love Mayor because it depicts Palestine in a way that we haven’t seen on screen before”.

The film follows Mayor Musa Hadid through the ins and outs of local government work in Ramallah, full of small, funny frustrations that call to mind the best plots from parks and recreation. However, local governance in Palestine comes with a set of international challenges that most Canberra public servants do not come up against. While Mayor Hadid has control over selecting park benches, door handles and the hotly contested city slogan, he has trouble with major works like a desperately needed sewage plant, because these require Israeli approval, which is repeatedly denied. This film opens a window to understanding a situation that, for many of us, feels overwhelming and complex. It is the power of the arts and the undeniable importance of freedom of artistic expression.

The screening of Mayor at Dendy Cinemas has been meticulously planned for months. But when the curators, Deborah Kingsland and Hannah de Feyter, attempted to promote the film through Facebook, as they have done for every screening, they hit a snag they had never encountered before. Facebook disabled the events advertising account because its promotion of the film was deemed political advertising. As the curators mentioned, the film is not even close to the most political documentary they have screened. One of their other works was a Philippines-based film called The Cleaners, which was about the appalling working conditions of people who moderate what the rest of us see on social media, including Facebook itself. So the ban on this film was surprising.

Despite the ban on advertising, people power and word of mouth meant that the Stronger Than Fiction film festival had one of the biggest audiences in the festival to date for the screening of Mayor last Friday. But I find this intrusion of big tech into our local film festival scene disturbing.

It is hard to understand the disabling of the ad account as anything but censorship because of the recent conflict in the Middle East. The 11-day conflict killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people also died, including two children, before both sides agreed to a ceasefire.

The international legal position is clear. The Palestinian people are entitled to self-determination and statehood, but they have been living under Israel’s occupation since 1967. The Greens recognise the ongoing injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people and aim to rectify that injustice in a way that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace.

I would like to commend the film curators of Stronger Than Fiction for bringing this important story of the struggles of Palestinians to our local audiences here in Canberra.

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