We Are Not Princesses

Sara Maamouri is a documentary filmmaker and editor who has explored a diverse range of topics for over 15 years. Her work has touched on social, educational and political issues, from former enemies bound together through loss and discovery (In This Waiting, 2011) to rebuilding a life in a former war zone (Amal's Garden, 2012) and reinventing a country as the world watches (A Revolution in Four Seasons, Hot Docs 2016). 

Bridgette Auger is an artist and filmmaker strongly committed to using art for social change who has lived and worked in the Middle East for over 12 years. We have conducted an interview with them about their latest project "We Are Not Princesses".

How do you portray "incredible strength and spirit" in filming?

We Are Not Princesses is a documentary about the strength and spirit of four Syrian women living as refugees in Beirut. Our film uses intimate footage and animation to follow how this group of women find laughter and purpose as they come together to perform the ancient Greek play, Antigone. In 2014, the Open Art Foundation put together a theater workshop with Syrian women refugees in Beirut to help these women find community and to help process their trauma as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria. This film focuses on the resilient, intelligent, articulate Syrian women who are picking up the pieces of their lives and moving forward in spite of the ever-worsening situation back home.

Whether they are gossiping at a seaside café or engaging in long-forgotten pleasures at a night-time fairground, these poignant scenes are where intense discussion and transformation take place. Smoking cigarettes and wearing makeup become acts of rebellion against societal and patriarchal authority. And never far from the surface are the horrifying backstories which brought the women to Beirut. Mona tells of the death of her child; Fedwa hyperventilates as she attempts to rehearse the story of her son whom she was unable to bury; Heba remembers her starving brother’s last wish for noodles and yogurt. These stories provide context for the Syrian war, and also establish the women's point of access into the story of Antigone, a story through which the women begin the work of processing their personal and national traumas. We focus not on what Syria has lost, but on what it still has—strong women picking up the pieces of their broken society and moving forward.

What is your goal for this kickstarter project? How much do you plan to raise and what it is essentially for?

We are launching this campaign because we are releasing the film independently and want to make sure it reaches as broad an audience as possible. There are two stages of making a social impact documentary film. One is actually producing the film, and the other is working tirelessly to use the message of the film to affect positive change in the world.

We are looking to raise $40,000 to:
-Promote our festival release and screenings by working with local and national stakeholder organizations to raise visibility of the film and the issues that refugees face worldwide.

-Travel for filmmakers and the women in the film - Travel costs alone for a few of the women who have the capacity to travel can add up to thousands of dollars. But this is so important because it allows them to participate in interviews with the press and in conversations that need to be had between refugees and the communities that give them shelter.

-Organize screenings in refugee camps or areas with large refugee communities.

-Provide free tickets to communities that typically do not go to the theaters to watch an indie documentary. Since this film is about their community, we will partner with local and national organizations to hold sponsored screenings.

-Materials - Posters, postcards and general literature creation, as well as printing and shipping costs for these materials.

How long have you been working on a social impact documentary like this? What was the most challenging aspect?

Our team has been working on this film for over hour years. The most challenging aspect is finding consistent funding to keep the project going.

If you can only feature two characters in the story/film, who will it be? Why did you choose them?

We love all our characters and couldn’t pick just two!

Fedwa, 60, is the mother-figure of the group. Despite having lost two sons in two years, she remains determined to hold her family together. Paradoxically, she identifies with Sophocles’ flawed leader, Creon, because of his obstinacy and desire to keep order at all costs. After reading a line from one of his speeches, she jokes to the group, “With this speech I could rule the country!” She is the strongest character and respectfully referred to as “Auntie” by the rest of the women. The climax of the film occurs when Fedwa finally breaks down while rehearsing her story of the night she learned her son was martyred.

Heba, 27, Fedwa’s daughter, has, like Antigone, gone through the pain of losing both of her brothers, one of whom she never had the chance to bury as he was shot by a sniper coming out of a Damascus mosque. While playing with her cat, Sushi, Heba softly tells the story of her sister smuggling herself by boat to Sweden and of losing her brother. She is timid in the beginning of the theater workshop and sits next to her mother, too shy to speak when pushed by the director. By the final scene at the cafe, Heba is visibly more animated and daring.

Isra’a, 22, believes she is Antigone through and through. She is vocal about how the war has offered an opportunity to liberate Syrian women. She sings a rap of her story of fleeing Yarmouk camp, along with thousands of others, while wearing 4-inch high heels. She raps, “The streets are destroyed, besieged, divided between factions, regimes and governments...Corpses of emotion lying on the ground. I, with heels, step over heaps of broken glass.” Isra’a is self-confident and the other women admire her for it. She boasts, “God, how beautiful I am!” while taking a selfie on the Corniche next to the sea.

When 30-year-old Mona’s son was dying of leukemia, she was unable to get him to the hospital in time because of shelling – a story which plays over and over again in her head. Now in Beirut, Mona is racked with guilt at leaving his grave. Mona is the narrator leading the viewer through the film with her poetic reflections on life in the camps and on Antigone. Her reflections speak to the universal truths of the film, such as choice and how to regain a sense of self when all that you’ve known has been ripped away. “Every night, I go up on the roof after the power is cut and watch as darkness pervades through half the camp. I watch the lights in the distance and realize that our visit will stretch on for years. I begin to suffocate and I want to scream, but I remain silent.”

Can you explain how important it is to engage with a wide audience in order to engineer a change of mindset?

Our film cuts through the misinformation and fear mongering about Syrians, about Arabs, about refugees, to remind each other of our basic humanity and our shared goodness. Change takes place when affected individuals begin to change their ideas. When you finish production on a film like this, the work is not done until the outreach program has succeeded in sparking conversations and creating an open dialogue about the crisis we are facing.

We are committed to being a part of this change in dialogue and and see We Are Not Princesses as a catalyst for this discussion. We are interested in international broadcast possibilities as well as a US television broadcast because we want to engage with a wide audience in order to engineer a change of mindset.

Our target audiences are communities with resettled refugees as well as refugees themselves. We are planning for a Summer / Fall 2018 international premiere at a top-tier film festival and to show the film on the international festival circuit. After its premiere and broadcast, we are planning a multi-faceted public outreach strategy that reaches refugees and welcomes non-refugee audiences into dialogues that aim to expand the narrow conception of refugee identity experience as painted.

We intend to take the film on screening tours around Europe and the US, while also screening the film in squats, collectives, camps and other communities that house refugees in order to inspire further solidarity initiatives. After screenings, we want to bring local refugees/immigrants from any country, as well as local people from the region, up on stage to discuss their reaction to the film. Their unprepared remarks will offer honest insight into both sides of the debate and create a space for open discussion. We already have close connections with partners in Europe and the Middle East and therefore a network exists for us to organize the tour.

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