The uplifting documentary “Soufra,” directed by Thomas A. Morgan, demonstrates how food can be a conduit for a community engagement, intercultural communication and an important livelihood for marginalized peoples. The film tells the incredible story of Mariam, a woman born and raised in the Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon, a way station for displaced people that’s become an institution. Established in 1948 to accommodate Palestinians, this camp is somewhere that is nowhere — its residents unable to work or participate as citizens.
The driven Mariam decides to create a livelihood for the women there, starting a catering business called Soufra with some help from NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations. Soon, they’re catering parties, schools, markets and other events in the area, making money, sharing fellowship and contributing positively to their community. The film follows their precarious journey as they raise funds on Kickstarter to purchase a food truck and expand their small business.
Morgan takes a workmanlike, observational approach, coupled with interviews, to unspool this tightly focused tale. But though he chooses a particular aspect of refugee life to illustrate, the focus opens up larger issues — the denial of nationhood as a denial of rights, the discrimination against refugees, assumptions of terrorism and more. To consider the long-standing Bourj al Barajneh is to consider the true humanity of refugees, who have hopes, dreams, lives to live and work to do. “Soufra” efficiently and effectively illustrates those ideas.