Documentary: Soufra, The Wildly Inspirational Story Of A Refugee Social Entrepreneur
The new documentary film Soufra opens on a dilapidated refugee camp just south of Beirut—a one-square-kilometer settlement that some 22,000 residents call home. Many have lived in this place for more than fifty years. The only jobs to be had are illegal and poorly paid. In fact, there’s a ninety-two-page document devoted to detailing all of the work these people are not permitted to do.
At the center of the camp is a small bit of respite sponsored by the United Nations. Here, aid is provided to ensure that residents have the minimum for survival. The refugees live in what can only be described as a prison. Waiting for what, no one really knows.
In this desperate place we meet Mariam, she has lived here her entire life. Mariam has been labeled as “crazy” because she refuses to settle for what’s been prescribed for her. Seeing the needs of her fellow residents—she’s determined to make a difference. At the beginning of the film, she gets a job assisting at the United Nations post within the camp. She musters the courage to ask for space to install a small kitchen. Mariam then applies for and is awarded a micro-loan to buy used kitchen equipment. Eventually, she convinces other women to join her in starting a catering business. Throughout the film, audiences witness forgotten souls being given a second chance. They’re provided the opportunity to leave their homes, engage in social settings and ultimately give them a sense of purpose. Their children begin to see them differently—not just as mothers, but as business leaders.
After only three months of running the catering business, Mariam is ready to expand. Twenty-five women are already on the waiting list to join her company, Soufra (meaning “feast” in Arabic). Her vision? To take her business to the community, be the first refugee food truck in Lebanon, and use the funds to improve the living conditions for the younger generation in the camp.
The documentary follows the journey of Mariam and her team, noting the endless hurdles they have to overcome. She manages to put together a Kickstarter video, only to learn that she’ll need to convince a London-based nonprofit to run the campaign for her, as she is not able to meet the minimum requirements of a credit card and a street address. Will Soufra be able to cut through all the red tape and buy their coveted truck? Will they overcome perhaps the most looming and prominent hurdle of all: learning to drive? Most of the women have never even set foot in vehicle, much less climbed behind the wheel.
Produced by Susan Sarandon and Kathleen Glynn, the film had its world premiere in September at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt, with Mariam herself in attendance. Soufra will also be screened during DOC NYC—in its American debut—at the beginning of November.
Director Thomas Morgan vividly details the bumpy road Mariam travels to reach her dream, and it captures the enduring message that strong women can take back their lives—for the sake of their dignity and their children—while fostering and embracing a global sense of community. It’s a documentary that audiences can’t help but cheer for.
FROM THE EDITOR
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