With the theme of “migration” prevailing in the 40th Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado, it is no surprise that a film such as Soufra would make an appearance. Soufra delves into the emotional journey of a group of women who are trying to take a step forward from the shadows of their refugee camps and start something new.
Director Thomas A. Morgan tells a story about of a tenacious woman, Mariam Shaar, who runs a Woman’s Program Association (WPA) in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. After running a survey with the women in the camp to find out what they would enjoy doing that would also help them generate income, the answer is that the majority enjoy cooking. So Mariam set off to find funds for them to start a catering business that would give the women in the camp an opportunity to generate a second source of income from the family instead of just relying on their husbands. In comes Soufra, which is the name of the catering business, the name translated from Arabic means “dining table filled with food.”
The film is narrated by its subject, Mariam Shaar herself, and told through interviews coupled with footage of her in the kitchen and offices, finding ways to solve every problem that pops up. However, due to its lack of variety in cinematography, the film can feel stagnant at times when the subject is stuck on a singular problem for an extended portion of the film. Because of this, I believe the filmmaker’s intent is to draw the audience into the journey simply with the power of the story. With such an observational approach to the film, the audience can get a close-up look into the subject’s thoughts and feelings, which is a base for building up a connection between the subject and the audience.
There is of course more intent to telling this story than it is just about refugees trying to open up a catering business. The fact that the filmmaker chose to tell this particular story opens up larger issues for discussion that are portrayed in the film. We see issues like discrimination against refugees and the denial of rights and nationhood, among others. The popularity of Soufra has brought hope to other refugees and created an impact in the lives of the women involved and their larger communities.
The story of Mariam Shaar’s campaign to help her fellow refugees, though it is a long journey, engages the audience in the emotional aspect of her quest to grow their catering business. Those who have an opportunity to watch Soufra will find themselves applauding in the end when the subjects successfully achieve their vision.