Women Behind the Wheel is a simple documentary with a simple premise. Hannah Congdon and Catherine Haigh set off on a road trip of a lifetime across Central Asia, documenting women’s stories as they trek across the Pamir Highway. The British women cross through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, recording and interviewing the captivating characters they encounter at every turn.
Armed with a go-pro, a questionable jeep and a goal, the women start their journey on the second highest road on earth. As they embark on their 3000km drive, the two women are forced to confront both sides of their assumptions, and the realities of the people they meet. From all-girls schools teaching motherhood. to a woman who cares for an intense amount of captive animals, Women Behind The Wheel is an emotional journey carried by its uncomplicated narrative. Despite some unexpected challenges (and flat tires) the two girls face along the way, nothing stops their adventure, or their optimism.
It’s a straight forward, feel-good documentary that aims not only to inspire, but also highlight the importance of connecting with other women. Feminism spans endless varieties in a multitude of ways, and the film does well to consistently highlight the importance of ‘quiet revolutions’. Through acts of local support and action, many of the women Hannah and Cat encounter along their journey showcase the importance of establishing and maintaining support for women around them, and their local communities.
The film discusses a variety of issues, from local tales of ‘bride kidnapping’ to religious extremism. Women Behind the Wheel does well to highlight a range of topics in its short but sweet 90(ish) minute run time. Rather than dive deep into one particular issue or woman’s experience, the documentary neatly executes a varied depiction of women’s rights in Central Asia.
Alongside the depiction of serious issues, Hannah and Cat visit a variety of feminist organisations. From cafes offering support for victims of domestic violence to organisations that promote sexual health education, the two women document a series of small feminist groups that showcase the similarities women face in the east and the west.
At its core, Women Behind the Wheel is essentially what all feminist tales boil down to, the portrayal of genuine women in every ounce of their flawed glory. Every woman who opted to share her story throughout the film is memorable, with each possessing their own understanding of womanhood, and the tribulations of everything that comes with it. The film gives these women space to exist, and allows them time to speak, something that cinema still seldom contains.
Overall, Hannah and Cat achieve what they initially set out to do, in more ways than one. Not only do the women complete their drive, they also produced a film that adequately depicts a spectrum of the female experience. Women Behind the Wheel highlights the similarities we all share, without lingering on the differences. An easy watch, one that makes for a perfect celebration of International Women’s Day.
Women Behind the Wheel premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year, and is out in select UK cinemas now
by Kelsie Dickinson
Categories: Films, Reviews, Women Film-makers
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