The Speed Sisters
Hired by a documentary film company to make a program of video clips about the Speed Sisters, the first all-female Middle Eastern racist team, Canadian born filmmaker Amber Fares soon found that there was a larger story to be told.
"We were involved in doing these clips and it wasn’t long before we were like, ‘Wow! This is really interesting. There’s a larger documentary here,’" she said
With this realisation in mind, Fares began filming the Speed Sisters since the racing season began in March 2010, with the intention of producing a feature-length documentary from the footage. Her relationship with the team has grown significantly during this time, and Fares believes her cultural background (her grandparents lived in Lebanon) has been a key contributor to the bond formed between herself and her subjects.
"I have one foot in Arab culture and one foot in North American culture, which is advantageous for me in terms of a storyteller and it’s great in terms of dealing with these girls," she said
"There’s a trust level there that was built a lot easier than if I were completely a foreigner coming in."
Interestingly, Fares hopes her documentary will tell a strictly personal story, rather than falling into the ranks of the various political documentaries that are made about the same region.
"Racing is the hook. People can identify with the idea of racing, and they can identify with what these girls want to do and some of the issues that they come across in their lives. They’re universal," she said
"I think that’s a really great way for people to be introduced to this region and to want to understand what’s happening but I’m not out to make a political stance or political film."
Fares also notes that speed racing appeals to the team because of the sense of freedom it provides, and a thrilling adrenaline rush.
"The type of motor racing that [the Speed Sisters] do is time trial autocross – a lot of doughnuts and zigzags – and it’s a course that they set up and it’s timed," she said
"In Palestine, there are so many restrictions in terms of the type of ID that you have and roadblocks and to get behind the wheel of a car, it’s one time when you are actually in control and can go where you want to go to a certain extent. Each one of them, they all have very strong personalities and are very individualistic, and very determined. And I think in some ways it’s something that people don’t think they should be doing and they probably like that element of it as well."
Despite the high expense associated with speed racing, Fares was particularly taken aback by the amount of support that these women have received from their families. The parents of one of the members, Marah Zahalka, even delayed their plans to build a house in order to buy their daughter a new car, which is shared by the entire family.
"Her dad is probably having as much fun with the car as Marah is," Fares said
. "But there was a point where she may not have been able to continue to race for various reasons. And the family went, ‘She needs to follow her dreams.’ But that is very unusual coming from a community like Jenin, for a family to be like that. So she’s really blessed to be part of that family. They’re really amazing."
Fares also adds that the rest of the team also hails from very supportive families.
"That may not be the majority in Palestine but it definitely exists," Fares said
. "When you look at the history of Palestine, in recent history, when you look at the resistance, the intifadas and the role of women in grassroots organizations, women have always played a very active role in Palestinian civil society and in Palestinian public life."
The rest of Palestine is also very supportive of the team. In fact, judging by their Facebook page
, it appears that most of the support comes from male fans.
"They’re all very good-looking women as well, so there’s that element of it," Fares said
However, Fares is quick to note that the group’s chances in competition are not to be taken lightly.
"Marah and Betty are competitors. Both of them have placed top 10 in races amongst 60 or 70 cars that were competing. They’re good."
The film is currently scheduled to be completed by September 2013, and Fares plans to continue filming the team until the end of November this year.