AFF is proud to present the Bay Area premiere of Speed Sisters on April 1st, as part of our Arab Film Series, in collaboration with Yalla Arabi: SF/East Bay Arabic Language Meetup and Berkeley City College. This event if FREE to attend, but please RSVP as space is limited.
The Speed Sisters are the first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East. These women race on improvised tracks in the West Bank and have become a bold and undeniable part of the male-dominated street car-racing scene in Palestine. The documentary Speed Sisters tells the stories of these fearless women both on and off the road. We rung up the film’s award-winning director Amber Fares and talked about both her career and her new film.
Arab Film Fest: How did you get your start in the film industry?
Amber Fares: That’s an interesting question to start off with. I, actually, am self taught. I have a Master’s in business and I ended up sitting on the board of directors for an organization in Canada that did film counts for Israeli-Palestinian-Canadian news. I got involved with that and that sort of got me over to Palestine. I was there quite temporarily and while I was there, I just sort of picked up the camera and started filming myself. I did a lot of short documentary work for NGOs and things like that, and came across The Speed Sisters. Speed Sisters is the first feature length documentary that I’ve done.
AFF: What drew you to documentary over other styles or genres of film?
AF: I sort of fell into it. I guess for me, I always watched docs but wasn’t really in that world. The reason I wanted to tell stories, whether that be a documentary or a feature or whatever, the emphasis or motivation behind it for me came from growing up in Northern Alberta, Canada. My grandparents came from Lebanon and my parents were both born in Canada, so we had this household that was mixed, this Arab and Canadian mix. I always say we played a lot of hockey and ate a lot of hummus. There were a lot of kids of different ethnicities in our town and we grew up not thinking about the Arab part of our heritage. And then after 9/11, there was a lot of push back towards Arab and Muslim communities [in Canada] as there was in the States, and my family felt that first hand and it made me start to question and want to know more about this Arab side of my family and of my heritage. At that time I also took a look around at the way that Arabs were being portrayed, and still are being portrayed, in the media. It is so different than the experience that I had growing up in my home and in the greater Lebanese community in Canada. I really saw a need to change that and change that narrative that was being dominated by this one particular event. So I think that was in the back of my head when I headed off to Palestine. When I came across The Speed Sisters, it was just automatic. I didn’t question whether I should make this film or not, it was a no-brainer for me. It was just so unexpected and the characters were just so great and I thought, what an amazing way to tell a story about a place that is so dominated by one particular narrative. So in telling their story, you’re sort of able to show a different view. Not just about Palestine, but also about women in the Arab world in general.
AFF: How did you find out about the Speed Sisters?
AF: I was living in Ramallah. At the time I had been living there for about 2 or 3 years, and I was invited to go to a race. And that’s how it sort of came about. I had been to a couple of [races] before, and when I saw them race, I thought it would be a really interesting story.
AFF: Representation in media is extremely important and this film showcases some very interesting women who also happen to be Arab, two demographics that are often underrepresented or misrepresented in media. What effect do you think a film like yours might have here in Canada and the U.S.?
AF: It’s always hard to tell, but I think for people who come and see this film, a lot of times it does challenge their stereotypes. They stop and think about what it is that they know or think about Arabs in general, Arab women, and even Arab men, to tell you the truth. In the film itself, breaking stereotypes when it comes to Arab women is a given, you see women race car driving and it’s done. What I think the film does is also break the stereotypes that we have of Arab men. The men in this film are really supportive. This isn’t a film, (and I think a lot of people might think when they hear about this film and the premise of the film), in which the majority of the film is [the women] fighting against this patriarchal society that won’t allow them to race. That’s not the case at all. The men in the film, the head of the racing federation, created this space for women and encouraged them to race, and the other racers were incredibly supportive and encouraging. There is one main character in the film, the father of Marah, who makes a ton of sacrifices for his daughter to follow her dream. It shows quite a supportive and encouraging community around these women. It breaks stereotypes, you don’t have the typical narrative of the Middle Eastern man keeping his daughter subdued.
AFF: Car racing can be an extremely dangerous sport and some of that danger is compounded by racing in Palestine. Did any major problems arise during the filming of Speed Sisters?
AF: When you are filming in Palestine and living in Palestine there is always the risk of bumping into the Israeli military occupation, and in crossing checkpoints just going from place to place. There are those elements, the elements of mobility, the elements of military control, and of the physical danger of tear gas and bullets and that sort of things. There was one encounter that is in the film that was very specific to the girls, who were getting shot at while they were trying to train. So that was definitely present. In terms of danger in the cars, since Palestinians have such limited space, they have access to very little space, they raced in very small spaces. There was not a wide open space. They never really got out of second gear, you know? It is dangerous, they do doughnuts and stuff and there were a few times for us when we [the film crew] were on the track that we almost got hit by a car. But in terms of them, the danger that they would be in the cars, would only ever be if they would ever get some space on the highway and start driving like maniacs. But the races were relatively safe, they did have police and ambulance services and stuff there just in case. Marah had one little accident, once her handbrake didn’t work and she sort of crashed into the crowd, but it kind of just bumped the side, it wasn’t a major accident.
AFF: As you know, the Arab Film Festival is committed to showcasing the best of contemporary films about Arab experiences. What advice do you have for young Arab filmmakers just entering the field or being part of the film industry?
AF: I definitely think we need to have more Arabs making films and telling stories.With Speed Sisters we took a different approach to telling a story within a context of the Middle East. I think it’s really beneficial for us to tell good stories that happen to be set in the Middle East, opposed to trying to further a political or religious agenda and then having a story second. I think that the important thing is that, no matter what, we need more Arab voices, we need more women voices as well and today, it’s really just about good storytelling and that’s the most important thing.
Want to watch the whole movie? Come to our FREE screening in Berkeley, CA, on April 1st, RSVP here to reserve your spot!