You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rafea: Solar Mama

An inspiring docu about women's empowerment, "Rafea: Solar Mama" shows how an illiterate Bedouin woman from a poverty-stricken community in the Jordanian desert learns to be a solar-energy engineer at India's Barefoot College.

With: Rafea, Raouf Dabbas, Umm Badr, Abu Badr, Badr, Aliyan, Bunker Roy. (English, Arabic dialogue)

An inspiring docu about women’s empowerment, “Rafea: Solar Mama” shows how an illiterate Bedouin woman from a poverty-stricken community in the Jordanian desert learns to be a solar-energy engineer at India’s Barefoot College. But that is not the only challenge this spunky protagonist faces. In this intimate, observational pic, Egyptian-born, American-educated helmers Jehane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief also reveal the complex gender dynamics in Rafea’s remote tribal village, where an educated, working woman is regarded as shameful. This fest-friendly item nabbed the audience award at Doc NYC.

A 60-minute version of the pic, titled “Solar Mamas,” aired on American public broadcasting stations on Nov. 4 as part of the Independent Lens series. In the U.K., the one-hour cut will be included in the eight-part series “Why Poverty?” airing Dec. 2.

Thirty-year-old Rafea lives with her four daughters in a drafty tent that is unable to keep out the cold of the desert nights. Her husband is an unemployed layabout whose lack of ambition stands in contrast to her practically palpable eagerness to achieve something.

Recognizing Rafea’s spark, Raouf Dabbas, Jordan’s minister of the environment, chooses her and her older cousin, Umm Badr, to be the first Jordanians to attend a six-month training session at Barefoot College, where they will learn to assemble and install solar panels. After their training, the women are expected to open a panel-installation center, and train others to do similar work.

College founder Bunker Roy explains that he prefers to teach women because they have the time and patience to learn slowly. And because they have families, their newfound knowledge and skills will improve life in their home villages, helping them to become self-reliant and sustainable.

In the supportive, mostly female atmosphere of the training center, the Jordanians, along with women from Kenya, Burkina Faso, Columbia and Guatemala, learn by doing. At first, the training seems overwhelming, but the helmers capture the students’ thrill as they realize how much they are capable of.

After a month, Rafea’s traditional family demands that she return home. Her manipulative husband threatens to divorce her and prevent her from seeing her children. Still reckoning that Rafea is a good bet, Dabbas pays for her flight, but reminds her of her promised commitment.

The friendly, outspoken Rafea makes an immensely sympathetic protagonist with whom the Arabic-speaking helmers obviously established a high level of trust. It’s lovely to see how she blossoms under the encouragement of her instructors and fellow students at the college, especially when compared with how she is treated in her village, where even her mother tells her, “A woman’s place is at home with her kids.”

Tech credits are strong, and Eldaief’s intimate camerawork captures the wild beauty of the Jordanian desert and the Indian village where the college is located. Expert cutting lends the story a dramatic structure, while a pleasing Middle Eastern-style score maintains momentum.

Rafea: Solar Mama


Production: A Noujaim Films, Plus Pictures production with the support of the Sundance Institute, the Skoll Foundation, DR, ITVS Intl., BBC, Roast Beef Prods., Steps Intl., DFI, Goldcrest Films, Tribeca Film Institute. (International sales: Goldcrest Intl., London.) Produced by Mette Heide, Karim Amer. Executive producers, Cara Mertes, Sally Jo Fifer, Nick Fraser, Don Edkins, Mike Lerner. Directed by Jehane Noujaim, Mona Eldaief.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Eldaief; editors, Jean Tsien, Jenny Golden, Esteban Uyarra; music, Jonas Colstrup, Omar Fadel; sound, Peter Albrechtsen, Adrian Rohdes. Reviewed at Doha Film Festival (competing), Nov. 20, 2012. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- TIFF Docs; Doc NYC.) Running time: 76 MIN.

Cast: With: Rafea, Raouf Dabbas, Umm Badr, Abu Badr, Badr, Aliyan, Bunker Roy. (English, Arabic dialogue)

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content