19 May Mountainfilm: “Soufra,” An Uplifting & Empowering Doc
Click on the FULL SCHEDULE HERE and look for the uplifting story of “Soufra.” Scroll down to listen to my interview with Telluride homeboy and the doc’s producer Trevor Hall of Rebelhouse Studios.
Also, Telluride author Susan Dalton captures Mountainfilm‘s best memories in “Mountainfilm: 40 Years.”
Something out of nothing…
From somewhere that is nowhere.
This is a parable in which food, a universal experience and conduit for community engagement, plays an essential role.
Food glorious food – but mostly the indomitable spirit of Mariam Shaar.
Mariam’s uplifting, empowering story of true grit and hope is told in the documentary “Soufra,” directed by Thomas Morgan and produced by Trevor Hall, with support from executive producer Susan Sarandon.
Hall is a part-time Telluride local and longtime force at Mountainfilm, having served as a festival judge and panelist. Hall has also attended the event with other film projects such as director Alexandria Bombach’s award-winning “Frame by Frame.”
Trevor Hall, who grew up in Telluride, is now president and creative director of Rebelhouse Studios, a creative agency of intrepid filmmakers.
“We are the rebellious-of-spirit who believe in the power of story to ignite growth and change. Rebelhouse produces documentary shorts and features, as well as narrative content to uplift audiences and make the world a better place,” explains the Rebelhouse website.
It is a passion and a mission in direct alignment with that of Mountainfilm, which is likewise dedicated to using the power of film, art and ideas to inspire audiences to create a better world.
Like the better world Mariam Shaar created for herself and her friends in a derelict refugee camp known as Bourj el-Barajineh on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon.
The world Hall and Morgan portray in “Soufra” – but cast in a much brighter light.
The light that radiates from Mariam.
“Soufra” – the word roughly translates to “a dining table of delicious plenty” in Arabic – is the name of the successful catering company Mariam built. Her business, staffed by a diverse team of refugees who also call the camp home, broke down barriers by pulling together Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese who work side by side. Their beautiful friendships and growing network within the camp propel a now-thriving operation.
Hall recently returned from Cannes, where “Soufra” was shown as part of the event’s Positive Cinema Week. The doc is now scheduled to be screened over Memorial Weekend in Telluride at Mountainfilm.
“Soufra,” the cookbook of the women’s treasured recipes, will be featured at Between the Covers‘ Reading Frenzy.
Since the women at the Burj el-Barajneh camp are full partners in the publication, they will share equally in any proceeds from its sales.
“One thing we are happy to note on the impact of ‘Soufra,’” says Hall,“We have already raised enough money to build the first ever permanent Children’s Center inside a refugee camp.”
“Soufra,” setting the table:
Mariam Shaar was born in Bourj el-Barajineh almost three decades after her grandmother arrived as the Palestinian refugee crisis began. Like all refugees, her family was forbidden from holding most jobs. Lacking the necessary documentation to leave the country legally and without the financial means to move outside, they were forced to stay.
However, driven by an unyielding desire to make life in the camp better for everyone, in the 1990’s, the Unsinkable Mariam Shaar joined the Women’s Program Association, a community-based organization designed to bring together women in the refugee camps in Lebanon.
To create a sustainable business at the WPA center – where she is director today – Mariam surveyed local women to get a sense of their interests and discovered many were interested in using their cooking skills.
Cooking was a skill which could improve life at the community center and at home, and equally important, it was something that also reflected the women’s heritages and passions.
And something for which there would always be a market.
Everyone needs to eat.
With seed funding and business planning support from Alfanar venture philanthropy, Soufra catering was born in 2013.
Like any start-up, the business went through many iterations: different names, logos and plans were tested.
Mariam partnered with Souk El Tayeb, a leading social enterprise in Lebanon, on training and branding. The idea was to revive traditional Palestinian dishes and offer them to the Beirut market.
The dishes were met with huge acclaim. But despite the positive reviews, not enough catering orders were coming in. In a brainstorming session with the women of Soufra and its stakeholders, the idea of a food truck was hatched. With that, a whole new journey began.
In 2015, social justice filmmaker Thomas Morgan heard about Alfanar’s work with Soufra. He came to Lebanon to meet Mariam, and ended up dedicating two years of his life to filming her story and helping turn her vision into reality.
With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, the Soufra women raised more than enough money to launch the first-ever refugee food truck, which made it possible to take their food and their business to customers all over Lebanon.
And they began providing more and more jobs for others inside the camp.
“…Ultimately, Ms. Shaar’s triumphs seem boundless,” raved The New York Times.