«Our film turns the spotlight on the commodification of domestic workers»

Article, 29.04.2014

SDC supports film-makers and films from the countries of the South and the East through the FOCUS programme of Visions du Réel. This international documentary film festival, which is now in its 20th year, will be held in Nyon from 25 April to 3 May. Last year’s winners from Lebanon reflect on their award-winning film and their experiences of Visions du Réel.

Domestic staff recruitment agency advertisements in Lebanon

For the last four years the SDC has supported film-makers and films from the countries of the South and the East through the FOCUS programme of Visions du Réel, the Nyon international documentary film festival. The «Visions Sud Est» award, which is given to a promising project, provides the winners with financial support to make their film. As well as screening their projects, the festival provides film-makers with a valuable opportunity to network with industry professionals.

Sabine Sidawi and Jinane Dagher, winners of the 2013 “Visions Sud Est” award (Focus: Lebanon), talk about their film “A Maid for Each” and its sensitive subject matter.

What is your film «A Maid for Each» about?
Sabine Sidawi: Many Lebanese households employ a live-in domestic worker from Africa or Asia. Since the late 1970s, domestic workers have been increasingly traded like a commodity, with workers being denied most of their rights and under the total control of their employers. Our film aims to expose this system of commodification which bears similarities to trafficking, to prompt us, the Lebanese people, to take a good look at ourselves, and to question our contradictions and our behaviour in relation to this market.

Is there much discussion in Lebanon on this issue?
Jinane Dagher: It’s a subject that is talked about from time to time, for example when an NGO launches a campaign or the media covers stories of suicide and abuse. This is followed by a short-lived outpouring of sympathy. While a number of films have already dealt with the situation faced by domestic workers in Lebanon, they did not address the global system which allows these abuses to take place and to go unpunished.

Do you think a documentary like yours can change the situation?
Jinane Dagher: A film can re-ignite a long-dormant debate but it rarely manages to bring about a step change overnight. The questions our film asks concern the vast majority of Lebanese society and could make some kind of difference by opening people’s minds. Having said that, the domestic labour problem in Lebanon also concerns the powerlessness of the legislative system, the police, the Ministry of Labour, consulates etc. The institutions that regulate this form of work turn a blind eye to the abuses.

Your film project was part of the “Focus: Lebanon” programme last year and won the «Visions Sud Est» award. How has this award helped you?
Sabine Sidawi: The prize was a great help, and not only financially. During our time in Nyon, we made new contacts and received feedback on our project from industry professionals. This has been really helpful during the shooting and editing of the film, which recently got under way.

Focus 2014: Tunisia

Tunisia, a country in the midst of radical democratic and political change, has been chosen as the subject of the 2014 FOCUS programme of the Visions du Réel festival. A total of 15 documentaries will be screened, of which five will compete for the “Vision Sud Est” award. For the fourth year running, the festival and the Doc Outlook-International Market (DOCM) will showcase, with support from the SDC, the cinematic output of a country with a burgeoning film industry. Culture shapes our life experiences and identity. It allows society to determine the type of modernity to which it aspires. It strengthens resistance against unfair treatment and influences the pace of social change.  As such, culture helps to advance development goals.

Vision du Réel