The Swan Maidens
Bathed in the glow of fairytale, The Swan Maidens looks at the harsh realities of life for two teenaged Syrian girls in Lebanon, as poverty and desperation drags them into lives of exploitation and violence.
One could argue that the Middle East is defined by war, especially when viewed from a Western perspective, and the bloody legacy of history shows no signs of abating. Lebanon, after emerging from decades of their own internal conflict now finds itself struggling to cope with fallout from their neighbor’s civil war. But war does not just leave damage from bombs and guns, but also the mental and social scars that survive for generations, as the Lebanese know too well. This film is about the effects of war and displacement, especially on children; of alienation and trying to find a sense of belonging, and the incredible power of the human spirit to endure and overcome terrible trauma.
This story began as a film script, inspired by the folktale, The Sawn Maidens. A story told in various forms around the world, women who turn into swans interact with a man, have a child, then leave. I wondered what happened to those children. The heroines are refugees in Beirut and are not only struggling to overcome the issues that they face as displaced persons, but also the additional ones which stem from the sectarian nature of Lebanese society which delicately balances a fragile democracy based on religion. Adira and Amirah are not only casualties of war, they are casualties of society and politics: they are Muslim, they are Syrian, they are poor, and they are female. Within their own community they are marginalized further as they are seen as being "different". With no access to education or employment opportunities the trajectory of their brief lives is sadly far too common.
The Swan Maidens not only looks at refugees and migration, but also the issue of child marriage and the sexual exploitation of women and girls. These issues exist across the globe. The setting may be the Middle East but these things happen everywhere, which is why the framing narrative - the legend of The Swan Maidens, a story found in myriad forms throughout the world - was chosen, to highlight the international nature of the issues addressed. This use of an allegorical framework was chosen as a way to explore the subject matter in a sensitive and nuanced way. The true ugliness of the human condition is best shown when juxtaposed with the beauty of that can be found within us all.