Documentarians are always in search of unusual stories, and producer-director Amber Fares has found a real winner in Speed Sisters. The Lebanese Canadian cofounder of SocDoc Studios heads to the Middle East to share the tale of five brave and ambitious Palestinians who have formed the region’s first all-women racecar driving team. Noor Dauod, Marah Zahalka, Betty Saadeh, Mona Ali, and captain Maysoon Jayyusi defy gender stereotypes by participating in professional races driving heavily modified regular cars. Competing against men, they roar around makeshift tracks in Ramallah, Jenin, Jericho, and other locations, racing against the clock to put up the fastest time as they follow complicated courses with very specific rules. The film is photographed by Fares and Lucy Martens (Out of the Ashes, Voices from Inside: Israelis Speak) and edited by Rabab Haj Yahya (Bed and Breakfast, Beyond Blue and Gray) for maximum impact, putting viewers right in the middle of the exciting action. Rather than being shunned by their patriarchal society, the women are cheered on by fans and their male colleagues, led by Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation founder Khaled Qaddoura, as well as most, though not all, of their family members. Each of the women feels the need for speed, but they also have different motivations. “I don’t race for the trophies; I do it for the release,” Mona explains, while Noor says, “In the car, everything I need to feel is there. The car completes me.”
The five women discuss their hopes and dreams in addition to their fears, often concerned for their safety as they go through Israeli checkpoints monitored by armed military guards; at one point, Betty gets hit in the lower back by a tear-gas canister, leaving a scary bruise, a sharp contrast to scenes in which she carefully applies nail polish and puts on lipstick right before a race. Fares doesn’t delve too deeply into Mideast politics, but she doesn’t let it take a backseat either; the powderkeg that is the never-ending battle over settlements in the West Bank and the ongoing troubled relationship between Israel and Palestine is ever present, always bubbling under the surface, as the women burn rubber and the soundtrack pulsates with songs by Palestinian indie bands. “How much will we let the occupation affect our lives?” Marah says. “What are we supposed to do, stop living?” Speed Sisters opens February 10 at Cinema Village, with Fares and producer Jessica Devaney (My Neighbourhood, Home Front) participating in Q&As following the 7:15 screenings February 10, 11, and 12.