If you would have told me a few weeks ago, that one of my favourite films in 2016 would be a documentary about car racing, I would have shook my head in disbelief and told you to do your homework better. I’m not interested in racing sports whatsoever. And yet, I am a film buff and have signed up for the #52FilmsByWomen challenge this year, to see at least one film by a female director each week.

During the Glasgow Film Festival one of these films was Amber Fares documentary ‘Speed Sisters‘, a film about car racing in Palestine. You might wonder why I am writing about this topic here on Travelettes… Well, there are a few surprises with this film: first of all, the car racing team Amber features in her film is all female! They are a group of women participating in a male dominated field, and if that doesn’t sound traveletty to you, I don’t know what does!

The film is also set in Palestine, at least one of the women featured is a refugee whose family was dislocated from their home in Haifa (Israel), and the Israeli checkpoints, soldiers and dominance are visible in the film at all times. Palestine and Israel are a controversial topic (to say the least) and a film that manages to talk about it through the story of 5 female racers is worth a mention here. So let’s get started!

Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters

The Speed Sisters

The film introduces five women who all share the passion for street car racing. Maysoon is the team manager, who takes care of registration for races, training opportunities and general advice and representation. The team’s two stars are Marah and Betty. Marah comes from one of the most conservative and economically depressed cities in Palestine, Jenin. Although her grandfather does not hold much of her passion for car racing, her father is her greatest fan and does what he can to support her. She shares her car with her mother, who is a driving instructor, and is the leading female racer of the team. Her fiercest competition is Betty, the glamorous starlet of the team. Her wealthy family has a long tradition in racing sports and the media gives her particular attention. She’s right up Marah’s heels for the title. Mona says she races for the fun and release, not to win. Off the race track, she hangs out in the garage to fix her car – her minor accidents are just the right comic relief for the film. Last but not least, there is Noor whom as soon as you see her on screen you want to make your best friend. She’s just awesome! While she frequently forgets which way to go on the track, she’s great at drifting and ends up pursuing a career in that field.

Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters - Noor Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters - Betty

Throughout the film the women struggle with all kinds of hurdles and challenges, from lacking finances and support from male family members to sexism on the race track and in the racing bureaucracy of Palestine. What weighs down most though is the constant feeling of oppression and restriction. Once the women talk about not having enough space for speed training, because roads in Palestine between Israeli checkpoints are simply not long enough – that’s when you need to swallow.

It gets more intense when their usual training space, a parking lot close to a check point, is patrolled by Israeli soldiers who go as far as shooting rubber bullets at the women, and of course tear gas. That’s when you start feeling almost unbearably uncomfortable in your seat.

How do the women keep their light spirit? How do they keep laughing?

How do they keep the strength to pursue their dreams against all odds?

All of a sudden, the film makes your own problems and worries seem so little. And it makes the omnipresence of the Israel-Palestine conflict in people’s everyday lives so tangible.

Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters - Race in Jericho Fight for your Dreams: Speed Sisters

Whether you are into race sports or cars or not, Speed Sisters is the kind of film you will enjoy either way. Director and storyteller Amber Fares (who is Canadian and the daughter of Lebanese immigrants) manages to place the spotlight on an important issue without an educating tone of voice. She tells the story of five women fighting for their dreams, and by that tells a story that is so much bigger than the individual hardships.

The film is currently showing at festivals around the world – have a look at the website to see whether it’s coming to your city too!

All photos via Speed Sisters.