BEIRUT: “[One] shouldn’t regret anything, even if their childhood was very very poor and miserable, and harsh,” Abu Walid advised. “You shouldn’t bemoan it, you know, because this is called an experience.” Abu Walid is among a myriad of vendors who carves out a meager living at Tripoli’s Souk al-Ahad (Sunday Market). His is among the assortment of voices that aspiring filmmaker Yahya Mourad has compiled for his forthcoming documentary project “Sunday Market: Tripoli.”
For the past 11 months, the 25-year-old Tripoli native has been working to embed himself within the fabric of this market space, which he learned is as much a treasure trove of culture as commerce.
“I was very curious about the market because I used to go every Sunday to look for filmmaking things – like a Super 8 millimeter [film camera],” Mourad recalled. “You can’t find any of these things for cheap ... only in Sunday markets. [In] Tripoli in particular, you can find everything.”
Situated adjacent to the Qadisha River by the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Souk al-Ahad lies in the midst of the “most chaotic part of Tripoli,” Mourad says. Located not far from violent clashes in the recent past between warring groups in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, the market is the means of livelihood for a diverse group of vendors.
“I would go every now and then on Sundays to shoot the objects being sold, the ambiance,” the filmmaker recalled. “The market ... it’s a kind of an exhibition, a destination. So that was very interesting for me.”
Selling a variety of goods – ranging from mundane everyday items such as socks and shoes to rare antique treasures – the boisterous venue has a “bit of something for everybody.”
As a film student, Mourad spent his undergraduate years studying audio visual production at the Lebanese German University in Jounieh. He has since matriculated in the master’s program in visual arts and cinema at Kaslik’s Holy Spirit University.
Mourad’s documentary filmmaking journey began with a short documentary, “Belonging: Tripoli,” a study of his “abused” hometown that garnered him five awards and screenings in a dozen national and international film festivals.
Mourad said his entire film education can be attributed to Nadia McGowan, his professor and mentor and a producer of “Sunday Market: Tripoli.” The project is still in postproduction, which is being financed via crowd funding.
Over the course of several months exploring the market, Mourad looked beyond the trinkets and hidden gems, confessing that he had begun to fall in love with the community.
“After a month or two, basically four or eight shoots, I started to interact there. They started noticing me and asked what I was doing,” he said. “I explained that I was shooting a documentary about the Sunday markets. I wanted them to show me how it functioned.”
Eager to learn more and share the stories of vendors of Souk al-Ahad, Mourad used his lens to center on the diverse faces, exposing the stories that make up the market.
“There is a Palestinian. There is a Syrian, a Lebanese, a Tunisian,” says Abu Jihad, another vendor featured in the in the teaser the filmmaker has extracted from his interviews. “All of them live from the Sunday Market, and all those in the market have nothing. All the doors are closed in their faces. ... This market is here to provide them with a chance to live.”
The vendors of Souk al-Ahad come from some of the most marginal groups in Lebanon. Without any other options, some live on-site full time. Unsurprisingly, the diversity at Souk al-Ahad also stratifies the community, creating a hierarchy of power.
“There is discrimination between the Lebanese, the Syrians and the Palestinians,” Abu Jihad openly admitted, “I consider myself Lebanese, although I’m Palestinian, I was born in Lebanon, and I lived in Lebanon. I adopted the Lebanese customs and traditions, and I defend the honor of Lebanon the same as any Lebanese and maybe even more”
Mourad has reached out for support but has been disappointed to find that Tripoli’s municipality in particular has no interest in participating in his project.
“I think the municipality is too ignorant about the market. ... They want to give up on it, instead of simply figuring out a way of enhancing it,” he said, noting the city council’s refusal to support his documentary. “They don’t want it to be done. They consider the market to be a barbaric place, full of trash. They don’t want to support the project or take part in it. They wish the market would close or open far away.”
Despite the difficulties he has faced in finding sponsorship, Mourad preserves in his efforts to narrate the inner workings, hidden life struggles and love stories of Souk al-Ahad.