HOT DOCS ’15: ‘Speed Sisters’ is driven by fast, furious women

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SPEED SISTERS premiered on Wednesday, April 29 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For additional screening times, click here.

If you thought Letty and Gisele from the Fast and Furious series were badass, just you wait until you meet the women of Speed Sisters.

Named after and following a group of young women from the Middle East who race cars, Speed Sisters is a firmly feminist manifesto on drive and girls who both have it and want to do it for a living. While cars are certainly a, well, driving forces of the documentary, directed by Canada’s own Amber Fares, it’s the fearless gals behind the wheels who are at the centre of the narrative, as they reveal their own connections to their controversial career choice and the effect it has on their personal life.

Speed Sisters navigates a lot of serious territory given that our lead characters (teammates Marah Zahalka, Noor Daoud, Mona Ennab and Betty Saadeh, and team manger Maysoon Jayyusi) live and work in the middle of the Israeli-Palestian conflict. But what’s incredible is how Fares manages to tell that story, the story of continuing struggle between nations, through these women and their attempts to become the “Fastest Female Driver” in Palestine. Not only does Fares include sections in which the girls have to cross the Israel-Palestine border, only some of them having official papers, but she also zooms in on the conflict between the team. There’s a particularly fiery competition going on between the expertly groomed and popular Betty and the hard-working and talented Marah and you see it in every single race showcased in the film.

Aside from including the team-based rivalries, Fares also lets us in on each Speed Sister’s home life, which reveals a lot about equality, and a continued lack of it, in the Middle East. While these women are celebrated by some for their ability to drift ahead of the curve, including certain family members (Marah’s dad, for example, is her biggest supporter and even puts off buying a house to get her a new car) and racing fans, there are many people who would rather them put it in park for good. There are some extremely frightening moments showcasing this prejudice, such as a scene in which one Sister is shot at by soldiers while attempting to practice in front of journalists.

While Fares may be considered brave for taking on this story (and really should be), as she revealed at a Q&A after Wednesday night’s international premiere of the film, cameras can often provide protection in Middle Eastern nations, as they suggest a certain level of authority. The Speed Sisters themselves should be considered the true heroines here, as they not only opened up their lives to Fares and her cameras, but continue to live them at full speed without any real protection. These girls are living fast, furious and fearless, and you’d be remiss not to race to see them action.

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Emily is covering the 2015 Hot Docs Film Festival live from Toronto. Check out more Hot Docs reviews here.

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