The young ladies of Amber Fares’ Speed Sisters are very much doing it for themselves. Tyres squeal, engines roar, rubber bullets are fired and tear gas canisters thrown in a documentary which charts the pioneering activities of the first and only all-female Palestinian motor racing team against the backdrop of a perennial conflict. Hailing from a region of the world where women are so often subjugated to little more than submissive housewives, in both cinema and the media at large, the steadfast courage and well-rounded identities painted by Fares makes for an offbeat, engaging and insightful watch.
A further asset to Speed Sisters is its insistence on plucky determination and positivity in the face of constant uncertainty and the menace of occupation. Driving to Ramallah, team captain Maysoon does little more than shrug her shoulders in resignation as smoke billows across a road, clashes between the authorities and elements of the population as commonplace here as train delays at London Bridge. The four girls who put the pedal to the metal cover a broad demographic divide but are united as women. Marah – supported by hard-working parents – sees the building of a much needed new family home put on hold for money to go towards a new car, while lover of the limelight, Betty, bejazzled at all times, is the group’s primadonna and focus of much media attention. The comically accident-prone Mona drives for the love of doing so and though Noor may struggle to master the routes – laid out by cones on restricted patches of tarmac – her privileged background is subordinate to a need for speed.
Infighting and dissension in the ranks is inevitable and though they may not demonstrate a great deal of cohesion in terms of being a team, collectively the girls well and truly buck the trend of conservatism stifling the ambitions and freedom of young Palestinian women. There’s a good amount of Girl Power on show in Speed Sisters. Sexist traditions and gender politics be damned: they know what they want and they go for it. Women are more than capable of wearing the trousers, or in this case a jumpsuit and crash helmet. Races in Jericho, Bethlehem and Jenin are enlivened by onsceen track times, course maps and stats as we take our place amongst a male-dominated crowd. Fares’ film doesn’t ever quite hit the same high-octane levels as its petrol head subjects but it is nevertheless a very unusual and encouraging representation of social change, defiance and self-determination.