Directed by Mayye Zayed, the Egyptian feature-length documentary Lift Like a Girl had its world premiere during the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival (10 - 19 September).
The film scored positive reviews after its first screening on 12 September, with Indie Wire calling the film a "rare picture of Egyptian girls dominating a traditionally male sport" and "an intimate observational portrait of a young girl’s empowerment."
TIFF reviewer Meghan White, writing for Awards Watch, titled her review ‘Femininity is synonymous with strength in ‘Lift Like a Girl’ weightlifting doc.’
She then asks the question, "What if physical strength—most often associated with our definition of masculinity—becomes inextricably associated with womanhood?"
White also comments on Zayed's use of the camera, saying it is “a fly on the wall; [it is] objective and unobtrusive.”
Toronto-based Egyptian Moustafa El Barbari, who attended the festival, wrote a Facebook post in which he thanked the director for "creating this piece of art, participating in changing the narrative about Arabs and Egyptians, in changing gender stereotypes."
"Thank you for documenting some of the most genuine and authentic characters I have ever seen on screen and most importantly thank you for giving us, Egyptians, a ray of hope among all the darkness our country lives in right now," El-Barbari writes.
Following its world premiere in one of the most renowned international festivals, Lift Like a Girl will be screened in the official competition of the Cairo International Film Festival, scheduled to take place between 19 and 28 November.
The selection has been announced on the CIFF's website.
The festival's president, producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy, said that the choice "stemmed from the importance of documentary film as a genre — one that has been underrepresented in past editions — in addition to the festival’s belief that ‘Lift Like a Girl’ is among the most important Arab films of 2020."
According to the brief released by the filmmaker Zayed on IMDb, the documentary follows a women’s weightlifting community that trains in the streets of Alexandria, focusing on 14-year-old Zebiba as she pursues her dream of becoming a professional weightlifter.
"Her coach Captain Ramadan believes so much in her and never takes no for an answer. He has been training world champion weightlifters for more than 20 years, including his daughter Nahla Ramadan, the former world champion, an Olympian and the pioneer of weightlifting in Egypt, as well as Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab female two-time Olympic medalist. For four years, Zebiba goes through victories and defeats, including major losses that shape her, as she finds her way from dust to gold," the brief reads.
Zayed previously worked on shorts Iskenderia (2012) and A Stroll Down Sunflower Lane (2016), with the latter being screened in the Berlinale in 2016 and going on to win the Best Experimental Film award in the 2019 edition of the Sharjah Film Platform.
She was also one of the six directors and scriptwriters of the collaborative production of drama Odet El-Feran (2013).
Zayed co-founded the Alexandria-based film production company Rufy’s Films and is a founder of Cléo Media, an independent production and distribution company.
Besides her work as a director and producer, Zayed worked as a cinematographer on Veve (2014), a feature film set in Kenya, produced by a German director Tom Tykwer and directed by a Kenyan filmmaker Simon Mukali.
Her film I Have a Picture won the El-Gouna Star for the Best Arab Documentary Film in 2017.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs between 10 and 19 September.
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