Read the full review on The Hollywood Reporter here.
Against the odds, a group of women who live in a Lebanese refugee camp pursue their food-truck dreams in a documentary executive produced by Susan Sarandon.
The catering company that gives the film Soufra its name was formed in the unlikely setting of the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, on the outskirts of Beirut. Within a densely populated area smaller than a half square mile, the group of women profiled in Thomas Morgan’s concise chronicle joined forces, built a business, and became symbols of hope.
Following their collective challenges and triumphs over a two-year period, the director acknowledges the depressing and often dangerous conditions in which Lebanon’s refugees live. But Soufra‘s lasting impression is one of empowerment and the energizing sense of purpose and community that the women derive from the enterprise along with their incomes.
With its likable subjects and its mouthwatering close-ups of musakhan and frikeh, this is a feel-good doc that’s clear-eyed and grounded in tough realities. The self-distributed item is a small film with a big heart, and one whose profile is sure to be raised by the support of executive producer Susan Sarandon (whose onetime costar Geena Davis will host the opening night of the Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles).
The venture’s leader, Mariam Shaar, was born and raised in the camp, her parents having arrived from Palestine in 1948. A promising student who quit school to help support her family, she’s someone who, as a close observer puts it, was “not born to give up.” With help from venture philanthropy organization Alfanar, Shaar and other women from the camp found quick success with their catering company, beginning with school lunches and moving on to private parties in well-to-do settings. The film finds them ready to embark on the next step — branching out with a food truck, which would be the first such business run from within a refugee camp.
But the red tape they face over licensing goes to the heart of their difficult situation. While it’s true that Lebanon has admitted large numbers of refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq over the decades, the welcome hasn’t extended far beyond the border: Not only is citizenship not an option for the refugees, but they’re also restricted from certain professions. As determined and optimistic as Shaar is, it becomes increasingly clear that Soufra is delving into untrodden territory, and the barriers to the company’s next goal don’t fall easily.