Speed Sisters documents the first all-woman rally-racing team in the Arab World
Cast and crew of Speed Sisters on the Ajyal Youth Film Festival red carpet
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Talk about giving a head start. On Monday, the zingy documentary Speed Sisters fired up the second edition of Doha Film Institute’s (DFI) Ajyal Youth Film Festival with a feisty burst of cinematic horsepower.
Lebanese-Canadian director Amber Fares’ Speed Sisters is an upbeat celebratory story that tracks the first all-woman rally-racing team in the Middle East, featuring Marah, Mona, Betty, Noor and Maysoon. Interestingly, the Palestinian star ladies themselves saw the film for the first time as it made its grand World Premiere at the fest to a packed Drama Theatre at Katara.
“It was such an amazing atmosphere. As we watched the film for the first time, it made us realise how hard we have worked to become race car drivers,” said Noor, as the five gathered for a chat at the Ajyal Festival on Tuesday afternoon.
“When I drive, I feel free,” said Noor, “Driving has been my passion since I was very young. All five of us were very competitive, united by our dream to become race car drivers. What’s special is how each one of us could, through the film, show who we really were. To top it, each one of us has gone ahead to achieve what we wanted to achieve. I feel like we are one family.”
Like family, the camaraderie and the healthy competition run high among the ladies in the film. Be it the on-field rivalry between Marah and Betty or the genuineness with which Maysoon, Marah and Noor bond, human emotions shine through in all their indomitability and vulnerability.
Marah’s fighting spirit then sure merits special mention. She said, “I play all kinds of sports — basketball, volleyball, tennis — to imbibe the sporting spirit. But I have always had the sportsmanship spirit, I think.” Through the film, Marah’s father can be seen striving day and night to realise her racing dreams. Shouldering the responsibility to not let him down made her more resolute, she feels.
“My parents’ immense support has been a driving force of my success,” Marah said, “My father’s many sacrifices and his decision to postpone buying land for our home for the sake of buying a car for me was a powerful motivation.”
Speed Sisters powers through the delicious irony of racing in the occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank where the slightest movement is severely restricted, and crushes a bunch of stereotypes while doing so.
“We are happy to help change the prevalent negative mindset related to women taking up driving,” Noor said, “Some people ask us: Why don’t you get married, have kids and stay at home? So I ask why should we not race and show the other side of who we are? Sports are meant for everyone.”
Mona seconded Noor. “Be it in this region or elsewhere, women are not expected to take up car racing,” said Mona, “However, the Palestinian community has been very supportive of us.”
For these five speed-chasers, roaring cars stand for a lot more than a head-rush. “Taking the wheel represents an insistence on the right to mobility,” says the note to the film, “a taste of hope and independence, and the stubborn belief that a larger and wider future is possible in their lives as women and as Palestinians.”
Betty, who in the film can be seen getting fired at by an Israeli soldier as she and her friends set out for practice, said, “Our lives can’t be only about war and occupation. We wanted to fight this in our daily lives. That’s why sport is important.” Strangely enough, this was the first time any of them were hit.
“I used to think that unless you attack them, they don’t attack. But I was in for a shock. I realised that indeed, every Palestinian is a target for them. I felt really angry,” Betty said.
“Our parents were initially worried for us,” Maysoon said, “given how dangerous the sport is. Also, it’s an expensive sport.” The film’s production expenses, however, were taken care of by a host of generous folks. Be it DFI’s grants, backing from the Sundance Institute, several international film funds or the crowdfunding campaign; saviours trickled in from many ends.
Avi Goldstein, one of the film’s producers, said, “We had imagined a cinematic journey into their lives that would also show how life in Palestine is. I couldn’t be prouder about what we have achieved.” More than $135,000 was raised through crowdfunding as around 60 backers from 30 countries pitched in. “It’s wonderful to see people encouraging us in so many ways,” Noor said, “I have more than 100,000 followers of my Facebook page, and every day, another 100 join. I don’t know where they come from but it feels great. Kids and young girls ask for autographs and tell us that they want to become like us.”
Of the countless compliments they receive, Noor found the one she got right after the Doha premiere on Monday to be rather interesting. “A gentleman from Qatar offered to adopt me,” she said, laughing, “He said he owned a range of fast cars and would like me to try them. I thanked him and told him that I have got lots left to do back home.”
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