Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) has selected the Egyptian documentary film‘Lift Like a Girl’ by director Mayye Zayed to participate in its 42nd edition, marking the film’s premiere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Shot over the span of four years, ‘Lift Like a Girl’ follows fourteen-year-old Zebiba, a weightlifter who is on the path to realizing her dream of becoming the world champion.
Zebiba, who trains daily, is following in the footsteps of her coach’s daughter, Nahla Ramadan, Egypt’s top weightlifter and former world champion. Her coach, Captain Ramadan, spent the last twenty years training young girls to weightlift on the streets of Alexandria.
Commenting on the film’s selection, CIFF’s president, producer and screenwriter Mr. Mohamed Hefzy said that, upon watching ‘Lift Like a Girl’, the festival’s artistic management was intent on inviting the film to participate in the 42nd edition,stemming 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.
Mr. Hefzy acknowledged that some may view the selection as unusual, particularly since last year’s International Competition featured Marianne Khoury’s documentary film ‘Let’s Talk’. However, Mr. Hefzy is confident that come November, audiences will quickly get on board.
The film’s director Mayye Zayed said she is proud and excited that ‘Lift Like a Girl’ is set to participate in CIFF’s International Competition. “Even though I’m so excited that the film is participating in the 45th edition of the Toronto Film Festival this September, the fact remains that it’s more important to me that the film is viewed by as many Egyptian audiences as possible, and for the audience to interact with the film via the Cairo Film Festival’s prestigious screen,” she added.
The film explores the theme of dreams, zooming in on people who do whatever they can to achieve their dreams, according to Zayed. While all the girls who appear in the film have won at least one national championship, some have won medals in regional and world championships as well as the Olympic Games.
The idea of ‘Lift Like a Girl’ came to Zayed in 2003 after she read about Nahla Ramadan’s victory in The World Weightlifting Championships. “This inspiring story was very interesting to me. I wanted to know more about her, and about where these girls find the strength to achieve their dreams in a male dominated sport. In 2014, I went to visit the site where the girls train, in front of the Port of Alexandria, where Captain Ramadan has spent his life training and preparing his daughter Nahla, and many others, to become local, regional and world weightlifting champions. This is where the film’s six-year journey began, of which four of which were dedicated to filming, and more than a year and a half to editing.”
Zayed is a director and producer. She studied communications engineering at Alexandria University before switching careers to become a filmmaker after she took part in a film workshop organized by the Jesuit Cultural Center of Alexandria in 2009.
She received the Fulbright Scholarship to study film at Wellesley College in the United States in 2012, which allowed her to foray into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied new techniques in documentary filmmaking.
Zayed started her career in 2010 as an assistant director on the set of Ibrahim El-Batout’s Hawi . In 2013, among five other directors, she participated in the writing, direction and production of ‘The Mice Room’, a collaborative feature that premiered in the Dubai International Film Festival in 2013. She co-founded the Alexandria-based film production company Rufy’s Films and later established Cléo Media, an independent production and distribution company.
The director has several short films under her belt, of which some participated in international festivals, including ‘A Stroll Down Sunflower Lane’, a short that screened in the Berlinale in 2016 and went on to win the Best Experimental Film award in the 2019 edition of the Sharjah Film Platform.
Besides her work as a director and producer, Zayed worked as a cinematographer on German director Simon Mukali’s feature film Veve, which was set in Kenya in 2014.
She was also credited as editor on the 2017 feature film ‘I Have a Picture. Film No. 1001 in the Life of the Oldest Extra in the World’. The film won the El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Documentary Film in 2017, the Jury Award for Documentary Film in Egypt’s National Cinema Festival in 2018, and the Best Documentary Film award in the Sharjah Film Platform in 2019.