SOUFRA, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, in Ara­bic with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Soufra — a word that means “din­ing ta­ble” in Ara­bic — is a shame­lessly sweet, in­spi­ra­tional doc­u­men­tary about women who start a catering com­pany by the same name out of a refugee camp near Beirut. Be warned: You will want to eat ev­ery bit of the food you see in this movie, and you will envy the level of ca­ma­raderie in the Soufra kitchen.

The fear­less leader is Mariam Shaar, a Pales­tinian refugee who was born and raised in the Burj el-Bara­jneh camp. As a refugee, she has no cit­i­zen­ship or of­fi­cial ad­dress, and no real prospects for chang­ing her sit­u­a­tion. Work op­por­tu­ni­ties for men are slim, and slim­mer still for women, who are needed to take care of the chil­dren. Shaar works with a women’s group in her com­mu­nity to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional training. When sur­vey re­sults in her group in­di­cate that many women are in­ter­ested in turn­ing their cook­ing into a money-mak­ing en­deavor, Shaar col­lab­o­rates with a ven­ture phi­lan­thropy or­ga­ni­za­tion, Al­fa­nar, to se­cure start-up money for a com­pany.

The main ac­tion of the movie — be­sides nu­mer­ous scenes of cook­ing and serving, in which you can prac­ti­cally smell the meat and spices the women roll in pas­try dough — con­cerns Soufra’s ef­forts to ex­pand with a food truck, for which they raise funds through a Kick­starter page. The prob­lem is that with­out a real ad­dress, which Soufra lacks, they can­not get a li­cense to run such a truck. Shaar is typ­i­cally un­de­terred. Things go wrong all the time; there are al­ways hur­dles to over­come. For in­stance, just to con­sider op­er­at­ing the food truck, Shaar has to learn how to drive for the first time in her forty-some years.

Soufra is an up­lift­ing film that does not ig­nore some of the strug­gles within the refugee camp, in­clud­ing cramped con­di­tions, a lack of ser­vices, un­safe elec­tri­cal wiring, and other poverty-re­lated is­sues. The women of Soufra have each raised sev­eral chil­dren, never pri­or­i­tiz­ing their own needs over those of the fam­ily. As they ex­pe­ri­ence busi­ness suc­cess — in catering con­tracts with schools and pri­vate homes, and in the smiles on the faces of sat­is­fied cus­tomers — they be­gin to seem more phys­i­cally and vis­cer­ally free. In one of the most pre­car­i­ous mo­ments for the fu­ture of the food truck, Shaar tells us that she’s never been scared of war — that she would walk out­side dur­ing a bomb­ing, con­fi­dent that she would be un­hurt. All she wants is to be able to give other women the abil­ity to feel pride in their own hu­man­ity. — Jen­nifer Levin

A co­op­er­a­tive kitchen: Refugee en­trepreneurs serving it up

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