Solar Mamas Makes Waves in Philadelphia

The screening of Solar Mamas held at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (BMFI) on Saturday, November 3, was a huge success for the ITVS Community Cinema program. ITVS National Engagement Consultant Sara Zia Ebrahimi gave us this rundown of events as they unfolded in Philadelphia, PA. Solar Mamas premieres tonight (November 5) on Independent Lens 10 PM (check local listings).

Bryn Mawr Film Institute (BMFI) is one of a small handful of old renovated theaters in the Philadelphia area suburbs that has been revived in the past decade. Since 2002, it has been a pillar in the region’s independent film scene from screening indie films to offering film analysis classes to their “open screen” series, which allows local filmmakers to share new work on the big screen. For the past three years, Philadelphia Area Community Cinema has partnered with BMFI to bring quality independent documentaries to audiences with screenings including Between The FoldsThe Calling, and the most recent screening of Solar Mamas.

BMFI’s lobby is striking with high ceilings, ornate designs, and natural sunlight. On this Saturday afternoon, the lobby was abuzz with patrons at Counter Culture Coffee and across from the box office, ITVS and WHYY welcomed audience members to the Solar Mamas screening. Three women from the local Dining for Women chapter talked to the audience about their work raising money to support organizations addressing women and poverty worldwide.

The film’s co-director Mona Eldaief joined the crowd for a Q&A after the film. Eldaief braved New York City’s travel restrictions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to return to her hometown of Philadelphia, where her mother was among the audience members.

The audience was eager to learn more about the film’s main focus, Rafea, especially how she’s fared since Solar Mamas was completed and what she thinks of the film. Eldaief also gave more cultural context to the documentary, sharing how Rafea’s village used to be nomadic Bedouins and how their economic and cultural practices have shifted in the past two generations. She also spoke more about the next stages of her plan with this film to arrange screenings throughout the Middle East, particularly among audiences of rural women, and have Rafea attend to speak to the women about becoming financially independent.

Still from Solar Mamas: Rafea in the classroom at Barefoot College with a fellow student.

As with most Community Cinema screenings, the interactions following the film in the lobby were as engaging as the film itself. Eldaief was able to connect with local leaders, such as Hazami Sayeed, executive director of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, which promotes Arab culture and arts in the Philadelphia region, and leaders from the Dining for Women chapters who spoke to her about doing more screenings with their chapters across the country.

One of the most exciting impacts of the screening is that not only did 10 people sign up for Dining for Women, but two women committed to starting a new chapter right there in the suburb of Bryn Mawr. Moved by the film’s content and Dining for Women’s mission, these women took action and became agents of change. Additionally, Dining for Women also decided to begin the process of registering the Barefoot College, which was featured in the film, as one of their grant recipients.

The Solar Mamas screening was an example of a documentary’s power to engage and connect individuals and communities who are interested in supporting social change, which is the primary goal of the Community Cinema program.

To learn more about the ITVS Community Cinema Program, please click here.