Maher Abi Samra and Sabine Sidawi, director and producer of A Maid for Each

“It has become normal to have a servant at home, when it shouldn't be”

Lebanon, Events and Festivals

Maher Abi Samra and Sabine Sidawi, director and producer of A Maid for Each

Lebanese director Maher Abi Samra's documentary film A Maid for Each, an investigation into the living conditions of some 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon, took part in the the Final Cut post-production workshop at the Venice International Film Festival this year. Euromed Audiovisuel met with the director and the film's producer, Sabine Sidawi.


Why did you want to make this film?

Maher Abi Samra: I am haunted by a story. It's the story of cleaning ladies who come to work in Lebanon, African and Asian women who are trapped in a system, by a law that makes them slaves… Whether I like it or not, I am part of the system. So I decided to make a film that explores the phenomenon, and focuses on Lebanese society, since the phenomenon exists there, and how to resolve it.

What do you think of the phenomenon?

Maher: What we need to do is to find a way to escape from this system and show the world what’s going on, but above all, to find a way of expressing how an individual falls into this trap, and how they then try to climb out of it.

What does producing a film like this mean to you?

Sabine Sidawi: I am upset by the system on a number of levels: this way of treating human beings, this slavery, especially in relation to the capitalist system in which we live, as it's produced by the system. It's important for me on a personal level to work, to show, for myself and perhaps even for my children, that we have to fight it.

Do the women you have met feel like slaves, or do they accept the system and more or less enter into it willingly in exchange for finding work?

Sabine: It's a problem. Very few of them have the right to speak up or rebel, because if they open their mouths, they will be sent back to their home countries. So they have no choice. Inevitably, they manage to convince themselves that they are content with the bare minimum, but this does not mean that we shouldn’t condemn the system. Although it provides them with work, it destroys the family unit, their human spirit, [and] also removes Lebanese people’s sense of responsibility. It has become normal to have a servant at home, when it shouldn’t be. The film is, above all, about this relationship that the Lebanese have with the servants' situation and the servants themselves, and it is that which we have tried to bring into focus.


Maher: We made a deliberate choice not to film women, but to film the environment and possibly the families. For me there is a completely imbalanced relationship between the three, so it isn't possible, obvious nor the focus of my work to look at women themselves. I therefore decided to focus on myself, a person who is part of the system.

What did this film change in you? What have you learnt?

Maher: There is currently a lot of racism in Lebanon and the Arab world, racism that targets the weakest members of society. I spoke with left-wing Lebanese, who are aware of this problem. I picked people who don't accept the system, but are still part of it. Even the owner of the agency was left-wing. Perhaps one of the flaws of the left, one of its failures, is that it has accepted this system…

Sabine: I believe this film has taught me that we can try to live outside this system instead of slipping into it. I don't have any help at home, and working on this film has helped me to stick to my guns on that. Sometimes it’s very difficult, and I really do need help, but then I think of the film and I resist. I find this very positive, as I think of my children and how they are going to grow up in and get used to this system. We have to fight back.


Translation: Phoebe Murray

share this article by email print this page