By Nadia Dalimonte
Zebiba in Lift Like a Girl (2020)
Lift Like a Girl is a intriguing documentary that lets intimate observations of the subjects guide the journey, with a new protege at the heart of it. Alexandria filmmaker Mayye Zayed champions and celebrates female weightlifters in Egypt, while also examining tough bonds between athletes and their captain.
In her directorial feature debut, Zayed does a great job capturing the strong sense of female empowerment in a community of girls who are following the lead of Nahla Ramadan, the 2003 gold medallist world champion. Nahla’s father is Captain Ramadan, who trains the girls in the streets of Alexandria. The documentary centers on a teenager named Zebiba training to compete in weightlifter championships. Zayed highlights the realities of rough paths, not just in terms of the sport itself but also (and even more so) the emotional bonds between a girl and her Captain, between the Captain and his trainees.
Lift Like a Girl is very much a day in the life that sits with its subjects in moments of silence, concentration, heartbreak, and companionship. The absence of narration, interviews, and score brings an unrelenting focus to this group of people at a particular time in life where they are aiming to be the best in an environment that frustratingly stresses masculinity. For every time the Captain brings the girls up, there are phrases such as “be a man” and “man up” constantly thrown at them, especially in times of perceived failure.
The documentary loses its steam midway through, but by the end emerges as a fierce and intimate look at how an entire generation of girls are inspired by a trailblazer.