Speed Sisters film review by Paul Risker
To the international communities inward gaze, the familiar perspective of Palestine is one of political and social turmoil that has been forged through a prolonged and bloody tussle with Israel.
Yet beneath this contentious veil, Amber Fares’ documentary Speed Sisters sets to make the camera lens the frame of a less familiar world; one centring upon a Middle Eastern all female racing team.
It would be naïve to not at least suspect that Fares’ documentary would crisscross the Palestinian racing scene with the tense Palestinian-Israeli relations. In what is perhaps an act of synchronicity, Fares’ documentary is a tale of provocation, resilience and triumph that echoes both the realities and dream of everyday Palestine. And this crisscrossing of the two subjects is indicative of how narratives naturally comprise intertwining strands, while offering us yet another glimpse into the volatility of the region and its disruption to all quarters of life.
While discussing his sophomore feature IONA, Scottish filmmaker Scott Graham offered: “As a dramatist I need provocation for characters, and it doesn’t have to come from other people; it can come from place.” Provocation in Speed Sisters emerges through one individual in a position of status within the Palestinian Racing Authority, who attempts to turn the races into an autocracy through the incorporation of rules that may or may not in fact exist. The action serves to position Marah, one of the drivers as the film’s central protagonist, nurturing a story about the consequences of principle and the resilience of one driver’s return to the racing scene in an attempt to reclaim former glory. And Graham’s words that place and not only people have the propensity to be a force of provocation unconsciously relate to Speed Sisters as drama also emerges from the spatial conflict of the region. Yet if we look past the spatial as a label, the source of provocation remains the human element and our Inherent propensity to clash contentiously with one another.
The means by which Fares positions Marah as the central protagonist, while still managing to give the other female drivers necessary screen time, creates an impression of the influence of narrative fiction. While not a piece of narrative fiction, one can still distinctly feel the undertones of such influence, inferring the close proximity of the two forms. But Marah’s story as well as the story of the team as a collective can be perceived as a reflection on female resilience and triumph in a male dominated sport. And any resilience taps into the resilience of the Palestinian people, especially those forced to live under occupation that are deprived access to the simple pleasure of gazing out across the sea. In the shadow of any individual success the film never forgets the angst that the prolonged and bloody tussle with Israel continues to provoke – military check points an everyday inconvenience while air strikes stalk the Palestinians with the threat of more bloodshed.
If Arthur Koestler refrained from believing in coincidences or accidents, then there is a moment in the film that has the feel of an ironic beauty. It is a moment in which a Crocodile thrashes violently in the water on the television screen in the background. This coincidental image alone could be read as symbolising much of the film’s themes, although Marah and the Palestinians are less predators and more an individual and a collective rallying against subjugation and unfair treatment. While from the critical position one can only pose the question as to whether Fares stumbled across a coincidental accident or not, only she can answer this seemingly innocuous moment or accident philosophical question mark.
A tale of joy and sadness, Speed Sisters is infused with the drama of gripping and suspenseful race scenes, personal high drama and humble human drama of characters living amidst a chaotic world. Yet Fares’ approach evokes an impression of lightheartedness that almost rides the drama like a wave. Unlike Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa that both captured human moments with high drama that are infused with an in-depth exploration of theme, Fares by allowing herself to be drawn towards the drama of the story and her sometimes too concise or lighthearted treatment of her subjects defines Speed Sisters as a reactive rather than introspective piece of documentary filmmaking.
SPEED SISTERS is screening in cinemas in the UK, Canada, and Belgium. For further information and how to host a screening visit: http://speedsisters.tv/screenings
Speed Sisters film review by Paul Risker