“Lift like a Girl”: Documenting the Journey of an Egyptian Weightlifter

When Male Support is the Reason Weightlifting Girls Achieve Their Dream

Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan) participating in a weightlifting competition in a scene from “Lift Like a Girl”. (Supplied)
Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan) participating in a weightlifting competition in a scene from “Lift Like a Girl”. (Supplied)

“Lift like a Girl”: Documenting the Journey of an Egyptian Weightlifter

When storytellers decide to document a story, they should have something to say through it. The rule also says: If you do not have something to tell, do not make the movie! Many people can have the skills of shooting, writing, directing and other filmmaking techniques, but the most important thing that people forget is why I am making the film? Why do I want to tell this story in specific? If you have the answer that convinces you, start the journey!

In the current scene of cinema industry around the world, the real stories have a strong standing because, amid all tales that make us sail in the world of imagination and novels and even the expected future, people want to see and interact with human stories that brings them chapters of other people's lives!

You can live more than one life if you read a book or watch a movie, but when the story is challenging and full of truth, you believe it and realize that life surprises us with its abstract events more than an imaginary script.

Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan) sitting with her captain Ramadan in a scene from “Lift Like a Girl”. (Supplied)

““Lift like a Girl”” documentary is this kind of simple film which depend on recording the real events that happened to a certain character in a specific timeline. It was done by the young director Mayye Zayed documenting the diaries of a weightlifter, Asmaa Ramadan (Zebiba), a girl from Alexandria, from the age of 14 until she reached 18, her training and the tournaments she participated in.

The Netflix platform recently announced its screening as the first Egyptian documentary film to be presented on this international platform.

 “Lift like a Girl” participated in Toronto International Film Festival in Canada in its world premiere, and was also shown at the Duke New York Festival, "the largest documentary film festival in the United States of America".

It won the Golden Yamama Award for Best Film in the German Film Competition at the Dok Leipzig Festival in Germany and the Best Director Award at the Seoul International Children's Film Festival in South Korea. In addition to that, it won three awards from the Cairo Film Festival, namely the Bronze Pyramid Award, the Isis Award and the Youssef Sherif Rizkallah Audience Award. “Lift like a Girl” continued gaining awards by receiving the Best Documentary Award at the Critics' Awards for Arab Films organized by the Arab Cinema Center at the Cannes Film Festival 2021, where 160 critics from 63 countries voted for it.

Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan) and her captain Ramadan in a scene from “Lift Like a Girl”. (Supplied)

The film follows the daily life of the weightlifter Asmaa Ramadan or Zebiba for 4 years. Zebiba and her colleagues were training in an empty land without any capabilities or care in the Wardiyan area in Alexandria and under the supervision of Captain Ramadan, who tried hard to provide space and an atmosphere that would push the girls to complete their training and reach the highest levels.

Asmaa Ramadan tries to pursue her dream of becoming a weightlifting champion as she is one of the many weightlifters that Captain Ramadan has coached all his life and won many competitions.

What is interesting and surprising is that despite the lack and weakness of the capabilities, Zebiba succeeded, with the insistence of Captain Ramadan, to obtain championships at the level of Alexandria Governorate, as well as at the level of the Republic and the continent of Africa, in lifting weights to prove that will, encouragement, continuous work and training are the basis of any success even in a poor environment.

Captain Ramadan Abdel Moati, Asma's coach and the father of the heroine Nahla Ramadan, the former weightlifting champion, spent more than 20 years training and qualifying girls for weightlifting in the streets of Alexandria and died in 2017 while shooting the film but he left his soul in the girls to continue and complete despite their sadness in losing him, their great supporter and father. His strong belief in supporting and qualifying girls to become champions in a sport that until recently was seen as male-only was such a great loss for them. We saw his sincerity at work, being happy with their success, and his childlike joy when winning a competition.

Captain Ramadan is the epitome of a strict and loving captain at the same time. The one who pushes the trainees, he is also hard at times for their good, and they love him and are close to him, in a relationship shaped by support and criticism, which is one of the most important reasons for the success of these girls.

The belief of the person in himself is often strengthened and supported by the faith and trust of others in him, this is what happened with Captain Ramadan and his girls.

Their belief in achieving more, even if it initially appeared that it was impossible, was supported by the confidence of Captain Ramadan in them and the idea that nothing is impossible and there is no difference between a man and a woman.

Zebiba (Asmaa Ramadan) standing after winning an African Competition in a scene from “Lift Like a Girl”. (Supplied)

The documentary is talking about the world of weightlifting sport which means loss and victory, a lot of emotions, support, stressful atmosphere and continuous training. But we are watching a movie that talks to us also about our strength, body, and physical moves.

It is about our feeling of falling, colliding and jumping. The camera succeeds in conveying the feeling of the body to make us feel what its heroes feel and know what is happening in this world.

In the world of weightlifting as you will know, "The most important need is weight!" Eating too much means gaining weight. Eating less than necessary affects your energy. The body in the movie is very sensitive, weighed in grams.

The documentary has a big amount of hugs, kisses, congratulations, pats on the back, scolding with tingling in the shoulder and physical communication that the characters made spontaneously to express themselves and their relations with others.

What I noticed also is highlighting the concept of seeing beauty anywhere and in everything. The poverty of the place did not make Captain Ramadan not pay attention to its beauty and enjoy it. On the contrary, he was keen to plant it with water, adding an aesthetic element to a place full of energy and intimacy, and this was reflected on the girls’ mood positively. We saw Zebiba continuing to water the plants in a scene after Captain Ramdan’s loss.

The movie did not use any musical background, tricks, or effects. The story is the hero of the movie. The story of Zebiba, Captain Ramadan, the weightlifting girls, their mothers with their constant encouragement, the streets of Alexandria and the desire for victory.

And how beautiful it is to be.

The film honestly highlighted the spirit of Egyptian girls who are immersed in the sport of weightlifting, and that courage and beautiful spirit of enthusiasm that they enjoy, to announce generations of girls who can challenge and find themselves.

We do not find ourselves by chance, - nobody brings up a chance simply for us but by working to develop, by learning and continuous training, by making an effort on them and by contemplating the world around us (the opportunity is created). This is what the movie confirmed. Nothing comes easily in life and the courageous person is the one who never slips in strength while searching for himself. This is what Zebiba is still striving for. She keeps training until this moment to fulfill her dream (herself) of being the world champion in weightlifting.

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