By Henry Heffer
One of the most honourable aspects of Amber Fares’ Speed Sisters, and one of my most passionate reasons for recommending it, is there is never any sense of the film becoming overly sentimental. The focus is on the characters in their cars, the speed, the race and the irresistible nature of obsession. The core qualities of any decent sports film.
Usually, with films set in such a tumultuous area of the world, one must sit through two hours of horrific but inconsequential images, in order to see two seconds of real story, character or drama. With Speed Sisters, this is quite the reverse. Instantly I was drawn in by the joyous nature of the characters and what each of them brought to Palestine’s one and only all female motor racing team.
War is a subplot, a rather unavoidable character that lingers in the background of shots and won’t stop looking at the camera; but as if this would stop a truly inspired filmmaker from seeing the true potential. These characters and their story flourish in spite of the occupation, not because of it.
The merits of this film lie in its simplicity. A simplicity that begins with its structure, as we are taken through two racing seasons consisting of five races each, all set in various locations in the Holy Land. There is one main rivalry, between the homegrown hero Marah, and her foil- the media savvy Betty. This is a rivalry that is based on conflicting personalities, aggravated by their need to out do each other in the driver’s seat.
The sport’s inbuilt tension manages to carry the film into a rather subdued climax, through a controversial end of season race in Jericho, which was always bound to fail to beat or detract from the film’s natural beauty. I just wish there was one more season to watch.
If I had one criticism, it would be that, for a film about women addicted to tinkering on engines, there is a distinct lack of detailed information about their cars. This, from a engine enthusiast’s point of view, is the money shot. It is the reason why, in this country, boys grow wispy little moustaches and stand in freezing car parks out the back of Tesco. A few spare minutes for detail could be tolerated by an audience that understands that these machines can be like an extension of a petrol head’s own soul.
Speed Sisters must be my current favourite film of the festival, which joins a distinguished list of F-rated, films on display over the course of the two weeks. This is a rating that is awarded to films that have either: a female director, writer or performance that is suitably feminine conscious.
Speed Sisters confirms, for me, the special place that F rated documentaries have at the core of this festival; my favourite films of last year being The Crash Reel, directed by Lucy Walker and close second was The Great Hip Hop Hoax, by Jeanie Finlay. The F rated certificate is a label of quality and (for as long as we need it at the festival) I can rest assured that the films that bare its mark will be of a satisfyingly high calibre.