In recent months, a short Lebanese documentary titled MARAM has been making waves both locally and at international festivals.
Directed by Lebanese filmmaker and producer, Samer Beyhum, the short film documents the reality of children who are forced to roam Lebanon's streets, trying to make a living.
Its protagonist? Maram, a spirited, beautiful little girl who escaped the Syrian conflict with her family and helps them make a living in Lebanon by selling flowers on a Beirut street.
Speaking to StepFeed, Beyhum told us more about the short feature, the collaborative process behind its creation, and the critical acclaim it has been receiving.
On the vision behind the documentary
When asked to tell us more about the short documentary's story, Beyhum said:
"MARAM is a short 6 minute documentary about a young Syrian refugee who sells flowers on the streets of Beirut. The documentary takes the approach of getting to know Maram as a young girl with hopes and aspirations rather than focus on her flower-selling in the middle of the night. It is befitting that Maram’s name in Arabic translates to 'aspiration'."
The filmmaker also told us about the vision behind the film and the real life story it follows.
"The primary reason we decided to make this documentary is to give a human face to the street kids who are often disregarded as a nuisance, more so if they are refugees or non-Lebanese. From the beginning we never intended to make this a story about pity. Our primary objective was to tell a story about a girl who works on the streets, to get to know who she is and what her dreams and aspirations in life are," he explained.
"The main message behind MARAM is that she is a child and a human being and that no child should live without an education no matter what their status is," he added.
On the search for Maram
Finding a little girl to cast in the film was no easy task and took around two months to complete.
Speaking of the film's unique casting process, Beyhum said:
"We spent two months searching Hamra for a candidate, we actually mobilized tens of our friends to look and report back to us. It was interesting to behold a network of people working together randomly to cast the right child."
"One name that repeatedly returned to us was Maram. We got her parents’ number and set up an appointment. We met with them and they gave us permission to interview and shoot with Maram, so we did. We planned out three days for the shoot and had plenty of fun shooting the documentary. We asked Maram to tag along with us everywhere we went, took her to restaurants where we all gathered to eat. It felt like we were one big happy family out having fun together," he added.
On the collaborative process of creation behind the project
Beyhum stressed that the documentary was born out of a collaborative process that saw several students and professionals come together.
Lebanese American University students, Nour Nassar, Kourken Papazian, Issa Khanji, Lamia Tokatli, Deema Dbouk, Judy SroujiIyad Tchelebi and Souad Saidi all collaborated on directing the film.
Filmmaker Madonna Adib and recent LAU graduate Sandra Sayej were also part of the collective directing unit.
When asked to tell us more about the the team work that led to the film's conception, the filmmaker said:
"I am a co-founder of 99media, an independent media group for social justice based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 99Media was born out of our experience at the occupy movement in Montreal during October/November 2011. Our ethos is that we can only make things happen if we work together and collaborate in a non-hierarchical manner within the context of a horizontal democracy based on sociocracy."
"It was my ambition to instill this idea here in Lebanon upon my return to the country in 2016 and this is the basis under which I agreed with the students to form this collaborative effort. A film is not made by one person but, rather, a film is a collaborative labor of love. For this reason it was important for us to have the core group of students who worked on MARAM be recognized as the filmmakers who collectively created this short documentary, rather than just myself. I strongly disagree with filmmakers who claim a work as their own film. One has only to look at the long list of names in the credit section of any film to realize that it takes a lot of people to make cinema magic," he added.
On the film's critical acclaim
MARAM has received wide critical acclaim, screening at prestigious film festivals, and winning an award at the Mini Docs Film Festival in Spain.
When asked what the award meant to him and to the crew behind the documentary, Beyhum said:
"The award and festival participation gave the team of students a very rare opportunity to be recognized by their peers as filmmakers. The award allowed for MARAM to be listed on IMDb and for the names of all those who worked on this documentary to be duly credited and recognized. It also meant that they got a boost of confidence in their own abilities."
"No child should live off the street and without an education"
Behind every filmmaker's story is a message they want people to get, a voice that needs to be heard. For Beyhum, this message lies in shedding light on every child's right to an education and better life.
"No child should live off the street and without an education. Whether the child is a refugee or not, Lebanese or not, is totally irrelevant. All children have a right to education; how else would we combat the ignorance of extremism and put an end to the exploitation and destitution of peoples," he said.
"It pains me to see how racist my fellow Lebanese are in the way they treat or speak about refugees and refugee children working on the street. It pains me even more to see that the ingrained corruption that exists in Lebanon at all levels of government and society is not only depriving Lebanese of all our basic rights but is also depriving Syrian, Palestinian and other refugees from even more basic rights and in the process. These violations due to corruption and racism put Lebanon in the category of a Human Rights abuser. Is it conceivable that in spite of the fact that international aid grants are being met yet less than what is needed is actually reaching the intended target and that 50% of refugees cannot attain an education due to lack of funds?," he added.
On making a difference and taking action
To help take necessary action to end the ongoing education crisis, Beyhum is leaving no stone unturned.
He and the team behind MARAM are currently developing a program set to provide education to many children.
"My team is currently in the process of creating an action plan to provide education for refugee/street children that will start out as a pilot program with Maram and her siblings and that will then launch in collaboration with serval NGOs. We will build up this project and try to provide this initiative for as many kids as possible. Ambitious? Yes. But not impossible," he said.