'Speed Sisters': Hot Docs Review

Tanya Habjouqa
This engaging doc delivers a startling spin on Palestinian gender roles

Amber Fares' documentary profiles the members of the Middle East's first all-female car racing team.

When one of the profiled figures in a documentary comments, "The smell of tear gas reminds me of my childhood," it's obvious that we're not in Kansas anymore. Rather, Amber Fares' film is set in Palestine, chronicling the Middle East's first all-women race car team. Delivering a lively portrait of its trailblazing subjects while examining the cultural and political complications attendant to their pursuit of becoming the region's "Fastest Women Driver," Speed Sisters is an eye-opening doc that succeeds in its goal of shattering stereotypes.

The team consists of drivers Marah, Mona, Betty and Noor, as well as their manager Maysoon, all of whom reveal sharply distinct personalities. Marah, the reigning champion, is perhaps the best driver of the bunch, with her family enduring great financial sacrifices to support her efforts. The talented but erratic Noor struggles with the problem of memorizing the racing routes that are only announced days in advance. Mona is less interested in winning than in racing for the sheer fun of it. And the blonde, half-Latina Betty is the team's resident sex symbol, a role of which she's all too aware.

"I'm beautiful and attractive," she declares confidently. "I'm a brand." Further demonstrating her marketing savvy, she comments, "It's like we put the pepper on the food. The race without the girls, it's not fun."

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The film details the myriad problems the women encounter while racing for the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation, founded in 2005. Finding places to practice is difficult, with the team forced to train in a parking lot located next to an Israeli detention center. The races are held in such locations as a vegetable market and a helicopter pad, although in recent years they've found a home base in Jericho. Simply getting around is a logistical nightmare, with Israeli military checkpoints omnipresent.

An inevitable rivalry develops between top racers Marah and Betty, with one competition turning on a questionable decision involving a car trunk that accidentally pops open.

Interweaving the personal stories with rough-hewn footage of the racing competitions, Speed Sisters is an entertaining portrait of its engaging subjects who have become instant role models for young Palestinian women.

Production: SocDoc Studios, Sundance Institute, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Doha Film Institute, Minerva Productions, International Media Support, Whitewater Films, WorldView, Goodpitch
Director: Amber Fares
Producers: Amber Fares, Avi Goldstein, Jessica Devaney
Directors of photography: Amber Fares, Lucy Martens
Editor: Rahab Haj Yahya

Not rated, 80 minutes