It is not common to find female street-car racers and in the Arab world it is near impossible. But, in the Palestinian West Bank there is a whole team of women, known as The Speed Sisters, professionally racing around the streets of Ramallah, completely shattering misguided stereotypes as they go.
This is a story that has captured much international attention in the past few years. It is a tale of Mona, Marrah, Noor, Betty and Maysoon (the manager) who are stunning speed freaks ultimately determined to fulfil their passion and open the world’s eyes to the opportunities available to women in the Middle East.
It has been told briefly and often but one woman who is trying to get this message some real publicity and express its true depth is Amber Fares, a filmmaker at SocDoc Studios in Palestine, who is co-producing a feature-length documentary about the girls in collaboration with UK-based Bungalow Town Productions.
‘We got involved in the project three years ago as part of a programme initiated by the British Consulate in Jerusalem,’ says Fares. ‘I have been to every race, but more importantly, I have been with them during their daily lives as well. I have a strong relationship with each of them and their families.’
The girls are all different ages – from 19 to over 30 – and come from varying backgrounds but they all have two major similarities; they are Palestinian and have a strong desire to reach the top in their racing career, despite widespread criticism and stiff male competition.
Veteran Speed Sister Mona sums it up like this: ‘When I drive, I understand freedom. As racers we get a taste of normality. One day, a woman from Palestine will win an international Formula race.’
Since starting the project, Fares and her team have been battling funding issues and have only just been able to start producing the film with support from the Puma Creative Catalyst Fund, BBC Storyville and Commonwealth Broadcasting Association WorldView. ‘We are just heading into production now and will shoot through until the end of this season.’ She adds that she expects to complete the film by September 2013.
However, Fares continues, they still have not managed to accumulate all the money they need and are now in the process of raising the production budget to complete filming and begin editing. They are doing this through a large fundraising campaign which will be launched in the coming days on the global funding platform indiegogo.com.
‘It is important to have personal stories [about the Middle East] that are not centred around politics,’ says Fares. ‘It obviously will break a lot of stereotypes held both by the West, but also in the Arab world as well. When I tell people what the film is about the reaction is the same everywhere – [people are surprised girls like these exist]. Yes, they do exist and I think it is important for people to see strong Arab women who are trying to live their lives on their terms.’
Luckily, says Fares, there has been a great deal of interest in the film already and she is hopeful that the funds will pour in. ‘Our audience can immediately relate to it because we are offering something that is apparently light and fun but we also know there is a much deeper journey to go on. This film is influenced by politics, by sport and by gender but is essentially driven by storytelling.’
‘The Speed Sisters are on course to be wonderful role models for women around the world and will provide a fresh perspective on Palestine and the Middle East,’ she concludes.
Photography: Courtesy of Amber Fares