In ‘Soufra,’ a Women-Run Food Truck Grows in Lebanon

A stirring tale of empowerment, the documentary “Soufra” shows how societal change can begin with small steps. Mariam Shaar leads a modest food business in Bourj el Barajneh, a refugee camp south of Beirut, Lebanon, comprising decrepit buildings, narrow alleys and a dangerous overhead mishmash of electrical wires. Despite her status as a Palestinian — barred, as with Syrian refugees, from better jobs in Beirut — Ms. Shaar grows her company, Soufra (which means a table of delicious plenty), with other women struggling to transcend their social station.

Crisply directed by Thomas Morgan, the film depicts a succession of challenges facing Ms. Shaar, a smart, understated and tenacious entrepreneur. Soufra begins as a company that races to raise Kickstarter money (with assistance from the Saudi philanthropical concern Alfanar), then expands into schools, upscale gatherings and a farmer’s market, and finally into a food truck, the acquisition of which provides much of the movie’s tension. Fortunately, Ms, Shaar has resourceful and engaged helpers — including the good-humored Ghada Masrieh and diligent Abeer Hassan Almassry — who share her determination and persistence. “You realize your worth,” says Manal Hassan, a mother of five, of working for Soufra. “Especially in these times, women can do anything.”

After an initial rejection, Ms. Shaar waits — and waits and waits — for government licenses to purchase the truck, and we see not only the prejudice facing Palestinians in Beirut but also those facing women in particular. Still, she persists, learning to drive, buying culinary technology for the vehicle, and establishing a stand. Ultimately, Ms. Shaar’s triumphs seem boundless.

Dec. 14, 2017

Any earlier version of this review misidentified the organization Anfanar that aided Mariam Shaar and Soufra. That Anfanar is a venture philanthropy organization; it is not the Saudi manufacturing and construction company of the same name.

Originally posted on the New York Times

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