Posted on December 04, 2014

Inspiring real-life stories of women who overcome prejudices and rise above challenging circumstances are highlighted in a selection of films being screened at the 2014 Ajyal Youth Film Festival, presented by the Doha Film Institute. The protagonists of these movies have several commonalities including the determination to pursue their dreams and a strong resilience to overcome all odds.

Sharing their experiences, the ‘Speed Sisters,’ who were featured in the Opening Night Gala of the festival, said their passion for driving has opened doors to a newfound freedom. Mona Ennab, one of the Speed Sisters, said driving is important to her because it gives her a sense of freedom: “If I drive fast I feel free and because I drive I can also cross the checkpoint and go to Jordan. I think we are the only Palestinian girls who can go to Jordan in our own cars.”

Inspiring real-life female-led stories 2 [].jpgNoor Daoud also echoed the notion of freedom, adding: “When I drive I feel happy. Since I was young it’s been my passion and dream to drive and race internationally. Maysoon Jayyusi, as the team’s coach said the film portrayed the five years of hard work the girls had each put in to reach where they are and also the attention of the media which their racing had sparked. “As Palestinian women we suffer and struggle under occupation but we are women of peace. We have aspirations and goals just like everyone else and we seek to improve ourselves and aspire that every woman around the world can achieve their goals,” she said.

Another of the team members, Marah Zahalka addressed the notion of competition and explained that though the Speed Sisters are a team, like every sport there is healthy and positive competition. “What’s most important is racing against men because if we’re not competitive we wouldn’t get better; the Speed Sisters team are competitive amongst ourselves but it’s positive competitiveness.” Director Amber Fares said she first witnessed the Speed Sisters by attending a race in Bethlehem and was amazed it was happening in the West Bank. “I saw women racing against men and it just blew me away,” she says. “It was a fantastic story –what was making them race and we got to know them and became friends and they took me on this amazing ride with them.”

Film lovers have another opportunity to watch Speed Sisters, which will be screened today (Thursday, Dec. 4), 10.30 PM at Katara Drama Theatre. Another inspirational female-led story showing at Ajyal is #chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator (USA, Syria; Arabic/English, 2013). Directed by Joe Piscatella, the film is about a young Syrian woman, Ala’a Basatneh who uses social media to contribute to protests against the regime.

Ala’a said that the film inspired other teenagers to use their social networks for their own causes which is amazing. "Based on the youth screenings we've had in the US and Europe of the film for teenagers, their reaction was that they were neither aware of where Syria was on the map nor that there was a revolution. But once they'd seen the film they wanted to sign up and help with tweets or go out and protest with Syrians."

Inspiring real-life female-led stories 3 [].jpgAlso sharing her experience was Sepideh Hooshyar, whose life forms the focus of the film Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars. Directed by Berit Madsen, the film charts her dream to study astronomy and become an astronaut. Her role models are Albert Einstein to whom she writes several letters. She said she gazes at the stars and finds an intimate connection with her deceased father. "What I learnt from Einstein is that there's no such thing as can't and that everything can be real. If you imagine it and pursue it you can do it. The foundation of everything is to just believe in yourself and never to give up. My dreams are just as important to me as they are to everyone else,” said Sepideh.

The Ajyal Youth Film Festival has several other women-centric movies including Difret (Ethiopia, Amharic, 2014), a film that mesmerized audiences at Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Directed by Zeresenay Mehari and with Angelina Jolie as executive producer, the film is a real-life story of Hirut, a 14-year-old girl, who was kidnapped from school. Trying to escape, she ends up shooting her would-be husband with his own rifle. The girl faces a complex legal trial while the men of the village call for her execution.

Qatar Airways DC