Left: Filmmaker Mayye Zayed and Captain Nahla Ramadan. Right: Asmaa Ramadan (in black dress) surrounded by the weightlifters' community, at the red carpet/screening of Lift Like a Girl during the 42nd CIFF. (Photos: courtesy of CIFF)
Egyptian Director Mayye Zayed was the star of the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival scooping three awards with her first feature film Lift Like a Girl.
The documentary won the Bronze Pyramid Award for Best First or Second Work, Youssef Cherif Rizkallah Award (Audience Award) and ISIS Award for best Egyptian film to show the economic and social emancipation of women.
Lift Like a Girl talks about women’s weightlifting community that trains in the streets of Al-Wardian neighbourhood in Alexandria. They are guided by Captain Nahla Ramadan, the former world champion who started as a trainee in the same place twenty-five years ago with her father Captain Ramadan.
In 2003, Nahla Ramadan won three gold medals at the World Junior Weightlifting Grand Prix championship in Budapest, and became the game's top-ranked athlete, breaking two world records in the process. This is an unprecedented accomplishment for an Egyptian athlete.
“Like many Egyptians I was really impressed by Nahla’s accomplishments, she was a normal girl trained on the street and made this achievement for Egypt, I was 18-years-old at that time,” the film’s director Mayye Zayed tells Ahram Online.
“The Image of Nahla got stuck in my mind… I got even more impressed when I met Captain Ramadan in 2014 and found out that he is still training girls at the streets of Al-Wardian, creating new generations of weightlifting Olympic champions," Zayed added.
Captain Ramadan and Asmaa Ramadan
The young filmmaker decided to make a film about him and his girls, looking for the new champion among them.
“When we started shooting six years ago we were shooting with all the girls including the youngest one Asmaa Ramadan ‘Zebiba’. At the time I felt that she should be the film’s protagonist so I decided to track her journey until she becomes an athletic champion.”
As Zayed clarifies, “Asmaa Ramadan won three golden medals at the African championship in 2018. She was supposed to participate in the Olympic competition in Tokyo next year but the Egyptian weightlifting team was suspended for two years. Asmaa is using this time to exercise hard to be ready for the next step, trained by Captain Nahla Ramadan after captain Ramadan passed away.”
The director expresses her sadness that in spite of all the efforts of captain Ramadan, the team does not gain much attention of the official parties. The trainers need a more suitable place to train weightlifting champions.
“I wish my film could help them and raise awareness. I believe in the cinema effect; I think a film is more powerful than an article, because it gives you a closer look on the characters’ lives. You get to know them better. I wish we had more films about inspiring characters in the society like Asmaa’s, and that we knew more about people like Captain Nahla and Captain Ramadan. We have many champions in Egypt especially in individual sports who have made many great achievements and deserve to be well presented,” Zayed says.
The young director pointed that she is going to use her film Lift Like a Girl in a campaign to encourage teenagers to pursue their dreams even if those dreams are not common for the society at large, as is the case with women and girls choosing weightlifting as their sport.
“We will try to screen the film at schools and youth clubs for children and teenagers who can’t go to a festival or to cinema theaters. They could watch it and maybe get inspired by Asmaa’s story. I want to show them how much sports could be useful in their lives, and what girls could do and achieve despite of all the obstacles they face in the society. Lift Like a Girl can be an inspiring story for girls to dream about.”
Asmaa, nicknamed Zebiba, was the youngest girl to be trained by Captain Ramadan before his passing away. She was also very close to him, and used to call him, “My Coach, My father, My friend.”
When talking to Ahram Online, Asmaa added that “I used to spend all my day training with Captain Ramadan. It was so hard for me to deal with his death, it took me some time. Captain Esmat Mansour is my cousin and she is the one who took me there for the first time. I loved the idea of being a weightlifting champion like her and captain Nahla, and I became fond of captain Ramadan.”
Asmaa underlined how happy and touched she was with the film and its reception.
“There was a lot of interaction from the audience during the Cairo International Film Festival’s screening of Lift Like a Girl. It was like watching a memory tape: I got to see my life with captain Ramadan again. I wish that this film could help in achieving his big dream of having a suitable place for girls to exercise weightlifting, because he fought for this dream for more than 25 years,” she comments.
Prior to its release in Egypt and the awards it scooped at the CIFF, the film won the Golden Dove for Best Film in the German Competition, Long Film category, at the 63rd edition of the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, in Germany, which took place between 26 October and 1 November.
The feature-length documentary Lift Like a Girl had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (10-19 September).
Mayye Zayed [centre] receives an award during the 42nd CIFF closing (Photo: courtesy of CIFF)