One sixth form screens ‘inspirational’ documentary Speed Sisters as part of festival

A still image from Speed Sisters. L-R Betty Saadeh, Marah Zahalka, Noor Dauod and Mona Ali.

A still image from Speed Sisters. L-R Betty Saadeh, Marah Zahalka, Noor Dauod and Mona Ali. - Credit: Archant

Hitting back against the restraints that have become routine in military occupied Palestine, five young women formed the first female racing team to compete among male drivers in the Middle East.

The Aldeburgh and Suffolk Coastal Young People�s Film Festival. Marah Zahalka, of Speed Sisters, at

The Aldeburgh and Suffolk Coastal Young People�s Film Festival. Marah Zahalka, of Speed Sisters, at Aldeburgh Cinema. Pic: Nick Tipping Photography. - Credit: Nick Tipping Photography

Their journey is the subject of a documentary that was shown to a group of Ipswich students this month as part of the Aldeburgh and Coastal Young People’s Film Festival.

Speed Sisters tells a story of political and societal rebellion and sheds light on a side of the Arab world that is rarely seen on European screens.

Refusing to be constrained by the boundaries that are placed around them, Maysoon Jayyusi, Mona Ali, Marah Zahalka, Betty Saadeh and Noor Dauod have become renegades within the male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene.

In the West Bank, where the Speed Sisters live and train, there are no car-racing tracks.

One screening of Speed Sisters.
Darren Meitiner-Harvey, Thomas Gerstenmeyer, Louisa Thorp, Marah Za

One screening of Speed Sisters. Darren Meitiner-Harvey, Thomas Gerstenmeyer, Louisa Thorp, Marah Zahalka and Shouq Masri.

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The women are forced to practise in supermarket car parks and stretches of land next to Israeli military compounds, where, at one point in the film, Betty is hit by a tear-gas canister fired by a solider.

Space is not the only obstacle that the drivers have to overcome, the cost of buying and maintaining a vehicle is another struggle for the women, who resort to converting regular street cars to race against the male teams.

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The festival was organised by The Aldeburgh Cinema Trust as part of an ongoing project to develop the provision of high-quality film and creative activities for children, young people and families.

Aldeburgh Cinema’s general manager, Thomas Gerstenmeyer, said the aim was to inspire and speak to young people in a way that was easily accessible to them.

“Kids would never see this sort of thing if they had the choice, so we thought the best way of reaching young people is going directly to schools and hopefully over the years inspire them to see these kinds of films on their own.

“There’s no big educational framework attached, we don’t want to tell young people that they have to come because it’s good for them.

“We think it’s an absolutely brilliant film. It’s set in a place where everyone knows everything bad that is happening but the film goes completely against all assumptions about Palestine. It’s about five young women doing what they like to do and that’s racing cars.”

Speed Sisters was given a special screening at Ipswich sixth form One, and film and media teacher, Darren Meitiner-Harvey, said it was an important subject matter to bring the students.

He added: “It’s such an inspirational documentary, they are really inspiring characters and for so many young people in the west all they have is the media and unfortunately more often than not in tends to be the very bad stuff so we never get to see a picture of their daily lives, their hopes and aspirations.

“It’s so important to see there are real people here with stories and they have hopes and dreams like all of our students here.”

‘Follow your dreams even if society doesn’t accept you’

Speed sister Marah Zahalka made her first journey to England to host a Q&A with the students.

The 24-year-old was the main focus of the documentary, which was filmed over five years from 2009.

“Being a racer and living in Palestine is really hard for me, it’s not just about racing, anything as a Palestinian is really hard, you face so many obstacles,” said Marah, who lives in the Palestinian city of Jenin.

“But at the same time, we have to find a way in Palestine to do the things we love to do.

“Of course occupation is one of the hardest things we face in Palestine but we try to take that occupation and make it something that motivates us to achieve our dreams and what we want to do in the future.

“Racing is for men not for women in a society like ours, it’s more like they don’t expect that, so it’s hard for the society and people to accept it and be OK with it.

“At the beginning I had so many difficulties and obstacles but then I showed them my abilities and what I could do and now everyone is really supportive.

“The team has inspired so many girls, not only in racing but to start hobbies and doing what they want to do and not being afraid of the society.

“It’s about following your dreams even if your society doesn’t accept you. Most of the girls in Palestine are afraid of the reaction of what people think about them.”

Marah said she was able to pursue her racing career because of the support she received from her family.

She added: “My relationship with my dad is really unique because he always had a passion for cars and he put that passion in me because he felt like I have the ability to do it and he trusts me, so I could never let him down.”

One of the biggest hurdles Marah said she faced was finding sponsorship to help her compete at a top level.

“Being a normal girl with a normal family means it’s not really affordable,” she added.

Marah said her dream was to become an international racer and to one day compete in the Formula 1.

“I want to prove to the world that Palestine is not just about occupation and people here have dreams and we can change the way the media represents Palestinian people and show that even girls can speed,” she said.

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