Lebanon is home to 175,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom have lived there their whole lives yet are treated as third-class citizens, not allowed to hold certain jobs or obtain the permits required to advance.
Soufra is an uplifting documentary that tells the story of an entrepreneurial woman activist who rallies her neighboring mothers, sisters, and daughters into a catering machine that defies odds. The dramatic arc concerns their quest to get a food truck, but we learn plenty about Middle Eastern cuisine and its passionate chefs along the way.
It’s a joyous, well-made film.
How did you find out about this remarkable story? I came across the story from Alfanar, the organization that made the original loan to Mariam to start her small catering business. I knew Myrna Atalla, the director of Alfanar in London, from a few years earlier,when we tried to do a film in Libya together. She called and told me about Mariam and what she was trying to do from this refugee camp south of Beirut and just had to see for myself. Two years later, Soufra was born.
Did you just happen to show up when they were trying to get the food truck, or was that planned? Once I knew of the story, they said that they were going to try to shoot a Kickstarter campaign in a week. I jumped on a plane and started following their journey. Two years later, this is the result.
That food looked amazing, Did you learn any culinary tricks or find a favorite dish? Honestly, they cook so fast I didn’t pick anything up except about 10 pounds of weight — they fed me VERY well.
Did their success break down any walls with the Lebanese government, or with the Lebanese people? It did not so much with the government but with the people of Lebanon. I think they had always been seen in a particular way — now Mariam is a bit of a hero, well respected by those in and outside the camp for her amazing work.
How are the women and company doing now? They are great! The business is great, and they are still working to fully maximize the food truck, but it was a HUGE step just to get the truck — people hear the story and are now hiring them to do some really amazing events.