Five Syrian women refugees in Carol Mansour's Not Who We Are

"It's more difficult being a woman than a soldier in today's world"

Syria , Libya, Industry

Five Syrian women refugees in Carol Mansour's Not Who We Are

Afra'a, Umm Omar, Umm Raed, Samar and Siham: five women, five journeys with the same fate of being a refugee in Lebanon. All agreed to tell their stories to filmmaker Carol Mansour, whose documentary Not Who We Are was recently pre-screened in Beirut.

"By December 2013, there will be a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon," explains the filmmaker. "When you think of this number, you think of tents, mattresses or sugar. You forget the individuals with their lives and integrity behind the numbers. They are treated like a herd. I wanted to highlight their stories."

To avoid clichés, the documentary starts with a young English literature graduate sharing an apartment with several artists. There is no sordid realism here, despite some of them living with only the basics. The film simply presents five honest snapshots of Syrian women refugees.

The latter allow Mansour's crew into their daily, private lives and speak openly about everything, including sexuality. Each story reveals poignant lives, and each woman is allowed her dignity.

"Before my arrival, I had bought a big television and painted my son's room blue," one of the women, now living in a tent in the Bekaa Valley, recounts. "I was seven months pregnant. I left without taking a single possession along with me."

The film is simple, sober and one is often struck by the lack of images. Due to the nature of the subject and these women's limited environment, the film is mainly composed of shots of their daily lives, with film extracts or photos only added to illustrate their memories when possible. Images are therefore sometimes repetitive, but the film achieves its success through the intensity of the women's stories.

Mansour has chosen women to be at the forefront of her film, because they are the hardest hit and most vulnerable in the wake of the violence, and make up the majority of the refugee population. 

"It's more difficult being a woman than a soldier in today's world," starts the film. Indeed, beyond its five individual stories, the director also wanted to focus on women refugees around the world.

Mansour hopes to change the dominant attitude to Syrian refugees in her country: "When I said I was working on this issue, several persons said, 'Let them go home,we can't bear the burden anymore!' As if people willingly chose to become refugees! They each have a story, a past and perhaps no future. I would love Lebanese to become more active in helping them, in whatever way they can."

The film's pre-screening in Beirut showed these women's tragic destinies to a full house, thanks to Carol Mansour's popularity. Most members of the audience were moved, although they were already aware of the plight of Syrian refugees.  

The film is now to take part in several film festivals, but only time will tell whether it will make a mark in Lebanon, whose population is the main target audience for its message.


Anaïs Renevier

Translated by Nasima Akaloo

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