This fascinating documentary by Amber Fares follows the ups and downs of an all-female Palestinian car racing team over two seasons of a racing championship. Made up of four drivers and a manager, they’re currently the only all-female racing team in the Arab world, competing against one another and other (male) drivers on makeshift circuits across Israel and the West Bank. These meetings are well-attended, mainly by men, and the Speed Sisters do tend to stand out in the crowd scenes, but as the documentary explains any initial outrage with regard to their participation has now died down – save for a few grumbles by older family members – and much respect is shown towards the women for their driving abilities.

There is a collective solidarity, but there is also a rivalry between the two best drivers in the team: Marah, whose father works all hours as a dentist to fund his daughter’s interest in racing, and Emily, who is seemingly from a wealthier background (or at least that’s the impression you get because of the designer labels that dominate her wardrobe). Fares sets them up as a kind of modern-day Hunt/Lauda, and at times you wonder whether the rivalry is being played-up for the purposes of the film; Marah, the purist, races for the pride of her town while Emily, keenly aware of her good looks, is successfully marketing herself worldwide, and even refers to herself as a brand at one point. Their backgrounds and approaches to the sport do seem to differ, but in truth both face the same prejudices, both have similar daily struggles, and both find it difficult to pass through Israeli checkpoints (whereas the other three team members have different passes that allow them easier access to Israel). What makes the performances of Marah, Emily and the others impressive is the fact that they don’t have any large, open spaces to use for practice, unlike – presumably – some of the Israeli and Jordanian drivers they compete against; the only available option is a small patch of land right next to a military base used by Israeli soldiers, and that – as seen in the documentary – can prove to be extremely dangerous.

Information is presented on screen regularly, with TV-style overlays used during the races to reveal split times and driver’s standings, as if you’re watching the official coverage of a major international race. The names of the women also appear regularly during the first half an hour, so you quickly get to know each one, as well as the various family members who also take part. It’s as interesting to see the women with their families, and to see them going about their daily lives in Palestine, as it is to see them at the race meetings, and the film offers an intriguing inside view of the region, with lots of footage illustrating the constant tension and the sporadic violent clashes that can occur. It is made clear that driving offers these trailblazing women a release, of sorts, a temporary escape from the world around them, and there are many shots of them smiling while they drive, their infectious grins captured cameras fixed in the interiors of their cars. The documentary is positive and uplifting.

Directed by: Amber Fares.
Starring: The Speed Sisters.
Cinematography: Amber Fares, Andrew Lang.
Editing: Rabab Haj Yahya.
Running Time: 
78 minutes.

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