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Meet the Arab Journalist Behind Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Upcoming Documentary “Woman”

Mia Sfeir, photographed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Lebanese journalist Mia Sfeir. Photographed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand for Vogue Arabia July/August 2018 issue.

Originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia

The Storyteller: Lebanese journalist Mia Sfeir has traveled the world seeking out extraordinary tales for the upcoming documentary Woman.

“In the past five years, I have conducted some 500 interviews across a dozen countries. My work as a lead journalist for French photographer and film director Yann Arthus-Bertrand has taken me to places like India and France, China, and the Philippines and, soon, to my own country, Lebanon. My first project with Yann, the documentary Human (2015), explored universal values like spirituality, forgiveness, peace, and love. It debuted in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, in the presence of then Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, and has since been screened in 60 countries and seen by more than 60 million people.

As we produced this film over three years, we couldn’t help but notice, via the one-on-one interviews, the sheer force of women’s strength and remarkable courage in the face of great adversity and injustice. It was decided that women warranted their own platform to answer questions that could give clues to creating a more harmonious future, particularly between men and women. Women are mysterious – so little is known about them. Here, we explore their relationship to their mothers and families, to men, and even to their own bodies. What is it that makes a woman feel feminine? Is it her clothes, her attitude, or what she has accomplished? What emancipates her? Her work, or maybe becoming a mother? What is her relationship to menopause and aging? This is how the documentary film Woman was born.

Mia Sfeir interviewed hundreds of women across the globe for a new documentary Woman, directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Anastasia Mikova. Photo courtesy Mia Sfeir

This summer, I will return to Lebanon to interview my fellow citizens. We will talk about patriarchy and a male-based system sometimes fueled by women themselves. We will also explore the fact that legally, women cannot pass their nationality on to their children. And that, under some circumstances, women inherit only half of what men do. But the purpose of Woman is not to delve too deep into religion or politics, but rather explore their souls for solutions. How does a mother feel about the inability to transmit her identity to her child? That same mother who could lose guardianship in the case of divorce.

In the film, the women will also talk about the concept of beauty. From where does Lebanese women’s need to look younger and the desire for cosmetic surgery originate? Do women have these procedures for themselves or for the benefit of someone else? As a result, do they feel more seductive? What I have observed, is that the world revolves around looks and personal attire. For instance, in India, society insists that women be beautiful and marry. And yet, I have found immeasurable beauty in women who have been facially disfigured. Acid-attack victims have found within themselves the force to go above and beyond society’s artificial expectations. And they must; the other options are isolation or suicide.

One other commonality among women is that we find our force, our resilience, in our families, and in our wombs. Perhaps it is this power, this ability to give birth, that has frightened men for centuries; inciting them to physically control our bodies and limit our minds by curbing our access to education. And yet, this film is by no means intended as an anti-male manifesto. Rather, it is an olive branch, initiated by the women we meet.

Mia Sfeir interviewed hundreds of women across the globe for the upcoming documentary Woman, directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Anastasia Mikova. Photo courtesy Mia Sfeir

Of all the interviews I have conducted, one stands out. I was at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, speaking to a young Syrian girl with blonde hair and large, green eyes. Her name was Sally and she was telling me about the day she left her country. She spoke of the moment when she said goodbye to her friends, to her room, her toys, and her clothes, and gathered in a bag the bare minimum to take with her. She spoke of the moment when you realize you may never again see your neighbor, who you once watched hang clothes out to dry every day, or hear the birds chirp at your windowsill. I still hear Sally’s voice and always will. For it is also mine. I, too, am a refugee of war, and in her frailty and tears, I saw my own, when on that March day the boat took us far away and my childhood became a memory.

It is true that the topics we cover are often grim. In the beginning, I would soak it all up like a sponge. I started to see everything around me coated with gravity; I no longer cared about superficial things. The stories of war veterans, refugees who had marched across countries and the women who were raped along the way all haunted me. We’re not psychologists and everyone maneuvers their experiences as they can. Now that time has passed, I feel stronger. Like an emergency doctor, I have somewhat become immune to the horror. I do not claim to be extraordinary, but I can look the misery of the world directly in its face and keep looking.

I have been asked why I do this. Ever since I was a little girl, I have listened to people’s stories and felt that I could help them. I believe that my work has value. I choose to be in this danger zone – this space where I shiver a bit and feel exposed, almost fragile – it is here where I feel most alive.”

Following Home (2009) and Human (2015), directors Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Anastasia Mikova will present Woman in spring 2019. The documentary will showcase the work from interviews with 3,000 women across 40 countries.

Photography: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Shot on location at the Fondation GoodPlanet, Paris, “
U-Man” Mirror Sculpture by Christophe Bricard

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