by GREG KING
The 12th annual Arab Film Festival screens a melting pot of films from around the Arab world, with films from Lebanon, Palestine to the Arabian desert. The opening night film is Ghadi. Four short films will also screen as part of the festival. The Festival will screen in Sydney from August 13 – August 16; in Melbourne from August 21 – August 23 at the Cinema Nova; and in Canberra from August 28 – August 30.
It’s rare to see women in the testosterone fueled world of racing cars, and even rarer to find females in the world of car racing in the patriarchal Arab world. But this fascinating documentary from first time feature director Amber Fares introduces us to four fast and furious females from Palestine who feel the need for speed and who live their passion as drift racers. Marah, Noor, Mona and Betty are the Middle East’s first female team of drivers, and their manager is the equally formidable Maysoon. They had to overcome a lot of prejudice and entrenched tradition and societal expectations when they set out to prove themselves as race car drivers. Racing opened up a new world for them and their families and provided them with a number of opportunities they may otherwise not have had.
Breaking down barriers, they are regarded as local heroes by some. They race under the auspices of the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation, which was founded in 2005. Despite being the reigning champion, Marah is the more hot headed of the four and often clashes with the head of the Arab racing federation and has numerous problems with their rules.
But the four also retain touches of their femininity through regular manicures, retail therapy and dreams of marriage and raising a family. Although they are friends, there is also a keen sense of rivalry amongst them as they compete to see who is the fastest. But Fares also takes us for a more intimate look at their personal lives and their families, who are supportive of the girls and their ambitions, and gives us some insights into Palestinian culture that we rarely see. Not just a sports documentary, Speed Sisters is also an exploration of gender roles, changing attitudes and society in the Arab world where some freedoms are curtailed.
Revheads will enjoy the adrenaline charged car racing action, the smell of burning rubber. There is some beautiful cinematography from Fares herself and Lucy Martens, that gives us a strong sense of place. We get a glimpse of life in Palestine itself, a troubled city with its military checkpoints, its hideous wall that divides it, the regular patrols of soldiers, and the constant threat of attack and shelling from Israel.
To find out more about this year’s program, Greg spoke to Festival co-director Fadia Aboud.