Speed Sisters
"This is a bold little film with a lot of attitude."

"The smell of tear gas reminds me of my childhood."

It's the kind of line we're all too familiar with hearing in films about Palestine, and with the images of it that we see on Western news. Equally depressing is the popular image of Palestinian women - fearful, submissive, burdened by tradition and war. Marah, Betty, Mona and Noor and a very different breed. They live life on their own terms, strain at the limits imposed by occupation and take no truck from concerned elders who want them to marry or become doctors. They also love fast cars.

Copy picture

Marah, Betty, Mona and Noor are members of Palestine's only woman's motor racing team, managed by the equally formidable Maysoon. They compete as a team to show what women can do and they compete with one another to be the fastest in the country, which could win them permission to race against men. This is a place where good driving skills really matter, whether it's for weaving round the latest piles of rubble, avoiding goats on the road or rescuing a friend who has been shot with a tear gas canister by bored Israeli soldiers. Ironically, it's also a place where finding suitable spaces to train in is extremely difficult. The women have plenty of supporters, however, as family members and local men have long since been won over. They are local heroes, giving their troubled cities something to believe in.

Each woman's story is different, and in exploring these, the film gives us an inside look at Palestinian culture than is much more varied than we're used to. In particular - though not all the families are well off - it gives us a look at the middle classes, who tend to be invisible when the focus is on suffering. Noor's house, up above the crowded streets, has a broad balcony and rooms lines with Indian figurines. Marah's family dream of buying the land to build their perfect home, but have delayed purchase because her father is working all hours to buy her a new car. Most of the women wear jeans and t-shirts, train hard to build up the muscle needed for racing. Betty loves to pamper herself, decorating her nails with diamante hearts, posing for the press. She doesn't see why she should compromise her femininity to have her driving respected. Maysoon is philosophical about femininity. It's useful she says, to periodically give the men who run the Driving Federation the impression they're running the show.

Alongside these scenes of day to day life are gripping scenes of the racing itself, which is primarily based around tight turns and dodging obstacles so that it can be fitted into relatively tight spaces. It's essentially stunt driving at its finest, and great fun to watch, even though the crude set-up and lack of safety facilities sometimes limits how close director Fares can get to the action. Although these are not proper race cars, just souped-up versions of whatever the women can afford, they're certainly nippy. There's also a real sense of danger that adds to the thrill, like watching old films with real stunts as opposed to CGI. It's easy to understand what the women find so exciting about it.

This is a bold little film with a lot of attitude. It's thrilling as a snapshot of social change and it will leave you longing for the chance to be there in person at the racetrack.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2015
Share this with others on...
A documentary telling the stories of four young Palestinian women with a passion for driving fast cars.
Amazon link

Director: Amber Fares

Starring: Marah Zahalka, Betty Saadeh, Maysoon Jayusi, Noor Daoud, Mona Ehnab

Year: 2014

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Palestine, US, Qatar, UK, Denmark, Canada


DOC NYC 2015

Search database: