Amber Fares, director of the documentary Speed Sisters (reviewed here) found time in her upcoming promotional schedule to answer some of our questions.
Katy Vans: How did you hear about these women and their lives?
Amber Fares: I was living in Ramallah and a friend asked Avi (Goldstein, producer) and I if we would like to go to a race in Bethlehem. Given the lack of movement and maze of checkpoints in Palestine I was surprised to hear that there was racing. We went to Bethlehem to see the race, which was on top of a hill at Arafat’s old helicopter landing pad. It blew me away. There were tons of people lining the track cheering, music blaring, it was just such an amazing, festive scene. And in the middle of it were these four women. I just knew I had to learn more about them. I liked the idea that the women were doing something that was completely unexpected. When you think of Palestine you don’t normally equate it with race car driving, let alone women racing. I saw an opportunity for a surprising story from the Middle East that people all over the world could relate to.
KV: Tell me about the circumstances of the footage of Betty being attacked by Israeli guards; how did that come about and what was your reaction?
AF: There were international journalists visiting Palestine who wanted to take some pictures of the team training. So they went to a place where they often train and there were Israeli soldiers (not guards) there. It was unclear as to what they were doing there. This is a frequent occurrence across the West Bank — it is not abnormal to come across soldiers in arbitrary locations, telling you that you can’t enter places you frequently go. When we went to turn around, a rock got stuck under Noor’s car. They got out to fix it, and the others walked over to Noor’s car to see what was going on. Unprovoked, the soldier shot a round of tear gas towards (them) and it hit Betty. (When) tear gas is used to disperse crowds it is supposed to be shot in the air, however, this soldier aimed right for us and Betty took the brunt of that. We were shocked and frightened. It was just really chaotic. The gas affected Noor and she started to hyperventilate and we rushed both Betty and Noor to the hospital. It’s important to note that this day was not remarkable — Palestinians are faced with arbitrary violence on a regular basis, just as they are going about their daily lives. We just happened to catch this one on film.
KV: What difficulties with filming did you encounter? Did you feel any of them were connected to your gender?
AF: Filming in Palestine can be very unpredictable given the maze of roadblocks and checkpoints and Israeli military presence throughout the West Bank. So these restrictions on movement definitely affected the production just as they affect every day life in Palestine. However, Palestinian communities were very welcoming and helped us navigate the constant changes in the political situation. In terms of gender, being a woman was a huge asset in production. I got to be a part of so many personal, private situations that would be difficult to film as a man. I was also able to build trust with the ‘Speed Sisters’ and their families much more quickly, as a friend and ally to the women. I also worked with a woman DP (Lucy Martens) so much of the personal moments you see play out on screen were the result of the intimacy of a female crew.
KV: How long did it take to make the film? Where did you find funding?
AF: We shot most of our footage over the course of three years, eventually focusing on two years/seasons of racing. It took us another year plus to edit the film. We funded the film through a combination of support from film funds and foundations, crowdfunding, and sweat equity and personal investment from the film team. We ran two crowdfunding campaigns and raised about $130K from over 600 backers from more than 30 different countries around the world. We received financing from the Britdoc Foundation and PUMA, PMA Worldview, Sundance Institute, Doha Film Institute, Chicken and Egg Pictures and a variety of other partners. We rallied vital support from the racing community centred around the Lime Rock Park race track in the United States, thanks to the dedicated support of Gear Head Girls racing. It was really inspiring to see the range of organisations and people who came together to support and give momentum to this film. We’re really grateful to all the folks who believed in this project through the years.
KV: What message if any do you want people to take away from the film?
AF: In places like Palestine, where we see the news headlines on a daily basis, it is important for us to remember that there are people behind those headlines. There are people, like the Speed Sisters, who are trying to live their lives and realise their dreams. And that we have more in common with them than not.