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Arab Women Racing Doc ‘Speed Sisters’ Looks to Travel Beyond Doha

Arab Women Racing Doc ‘Speed Sisters’ Looks to Travel Beyond Doha

Besides
being slickly made, this documentary about Palestinian female rally-race
drivers, directed by first-time filmmaker Amber Fares, delivers a spirited,
crowd-pleasing portrait of four tenacious, strong-minded young women determined
to express themselves in their heavily male-dominated culture and sport.

That’s a message worth pushing in this region of the world, and kudos to Al
Remaihi for giving the film a high-profile Middle East platform. But “Speed
Sisters” will puncture a few Western stereotypes as well, such as what everyday
life is like for West Bank Palestinians or assumptions that Arab-speaking women
have no voice. It’s all handled very lightly and there was arguably a more painful,
hard-hitting story to be told here, but effective punches can still be landed with
a gentle delivery. Sequences showing one Speed Sister (Betty) being struck by a
tear-gas shell fired by an Israeli soldier and another (Marah) traversing a
West Bank-Israeli checkpoint don’t require any more underlining.

The
film also does a good job conveying the passion and resilience of the fast and
furious quartet (Noor and Mona being the other two) and their manager/leader
Maysoon in pursuit of their past-time, as well as the inevitable frustrations of
being female auto-racers in an occupied land (stifling travel restrictions,
arbitrary decisions by race officials). There’s also petulance and ego on
display as well as female solidarity: as the narrative progresses, a bitter rivalry
develops between the two best racers: tomboyish Marah – the poorest of the
four, whose proud father slaves 18-hour days to support his daughter’s racing
dreams – and glamorous Betty, whose accentuated femininity make her the favored
choice for sponsors and the Palestinian race leadership.

But
“Speed Sisters” always keep its focus on positive messaging. “Women have a
history of being involved in the social movements and resistance in Palestine
so it’s not a huge leap for Palestinians to embrace the Speed Sisters,” Fares
told me when we sat down during the festival. “The other racers were incredibly
supportive of them too, which blew me away.”

Fares,
a Canadian with Lebanese roots, and her producers, Avi Goldstein and Jessica Devaney,
shot “Speed Sisters” over a period of four years, but confined the film’s
narrative to a two-year window. They turned twice to crowd-funding campaigns, including
Indiegogo, and also secured money from Madonna’s charity Ray of Light, the DFI,
their own families and Sundance (Fares took part in multiple Labs).

The
day we met, Sundance announced its 2015 line-up and, despite not expressing
it directly, I could sense their disappointment at not being selected, although
they say Sundance will support “Speed Sisters” on its journey through the festival
circuit. Ajyal has been a phenomenal launchpad in the Arabic-speaking world and they’re confident the film will travel next year to European and North American
festivals.

“We
really wanted to have a Middle Eastern premiere,” said Goldstein. “It allowed
the participation of the Speed Sisters, all of whom were able to come to Doha
and celebrate the launching of the film with us.”

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