Kia recalling 295,000 vehicles due to risk of engine fires    Egypt's wheat strategic reserves enough for 5.7 months – minister    Turkey in weekend lockdown as coronavirus cases hit record highs    U.S. stocks sweep to records on hope for fiscal relief    Egypt's environment minister to launch legal action against TV channel that filmed ‘merciless' fox hunting    Egypt PM to attend AU's 13th extraordinary summit on AfCFTA    US Trump orders withdrawal of all troops from Somalia    Bahrain now 2nd nation to grant Pfizer shot emergency use    Oman to enact labour, taxation and subsidy reforms, minister tells Manama summit    Solskjaer can't think past 'next six games' at Manchester United    Egypt's poverty rate falls for first time to 29.7% since 1999    US raised prospect of blacklisting Yemen's Houthis: Oman FM tells Manama summit    Bahrain says it won't allow imports from Israeli settlements    Egypt reports 427 new coronavirus cases, 19 deaths on Friday    LIVE: Talae El-Geish v Ahly (Egypt Cup final)    Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot    Frank Lampard keen to extend stay at Chelsea    China says US legislation targeting Chinese firms discriminatory    Egypt sees receiving first batch of coronavirus vaccine in May 2021 – official    Khartoum's benefits from GERD cannot be achieved without signature of a binding legal agreement, says Sudan's irrigation minister    42nd Cairo International Film Festival opens today amid strict precautionary measures    Egyptian expats to print ballots starting Thursday for 2nd stage of parliamentary run-offs    Gana Hena play at Al-Ghad Theatre is a must go    A final battle    Free Devastation    Brexit unresolved, as EU, UK say big differences remain    Cairo International Book Fair suspended for five months over coronavirus concerns    US will reduce number of its troop in Iraq, Afghanistan    Egypt unveils largest archaeological discovery in 2020 with over 100 intact sarcophagi    Trump says won't blame Egypt for being ‘upset' over GERD dispute with Ethiopia    1st stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections kicks off on Saturday    Global Finance: Egypt's Tarek Amer among the world's top 20 central bank governors    Legend footballer Lionel Messi says he is forced to stay with Barcelona    Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan to resume Nile dam talks today    Iraqi conglomerate eyes developing land that housed Mubarak-era ruling party HQ    Legend Messi officially wants to leave Barcelona, hands transfer request    The Facebook Preacher's Search for Fame, and Egypt's Economy    Egypt calls on UNSC to address oil spill risks off Yemen coast    Egypt economically strong in face of COVID-19, reforms ongoing: International Cooperation Minister    Arafa Holding reports $144,000 COVID-19-related losses in April    Egypt's efforts in Libya to activate free will of Libyan people: Al-Sisi    Hyksos campaigns were internal takeover, not foreign invaders: study    COVID-19 affects Egypt sporting clubs    COVID-19 will soon turn to seasonal like swine flu: Presidential Health Advisor    ‘Egypt's Support' coalition convenes to discuss its Senate election list    Robbery attempt leads to discovery of Ptolemaic monuments in Qena    Flouting international guidance, Ethiopia unilaterally starts filling its Nile dam    Zaha speaks out after online racial abuse    

Thank you for reporting!
This image will be automatically disabled when it gets reported by several people.

Gold dust
Published in Ahram Online on 18 - 08 - 2020

Mayye Zayed's debut Lift Like a Girl has been selected for the Toronto International Film Festival (to open in September). This is the second achievement by Egyptian female filmmakers in 2020, after Ayten Amin's Souad premiering at Cannes. Incidentally, both women are from Alexandria.
An editor and cinematographer as well as a director, Zayed has made an observational documentary about the female weightlifting community training on the streets of Alexandria. It follows the 14-year-old Zebiba as she pursues her dream of becoming a professional weightlifter. For over 20 years her coach Captain Ramadan, who believes in and pushes her, has been training woman weightlifters. These include his own daughter Nahla Ramadan, former world champion, two-time Olympian and weightlifting pioneer 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 that shape her while she finds her way from dust to gold.
Although work on Lift Like a Girl started in 2014, Zayed's connection with the world of her film started in 2003: “I was 18 years old when Nahla Ramadan, the pioneer of weightlifting in Egypt, Africa and the Arab world, became the game's top- ranking athlete after collecting three gold medals and breaking two world records in the process. It was such a big thing for me. I was completely astonished with that girl who had no place to train but the street, and no coach but her father.”
At that time Zayed was a secondary school student hoping to become an engineer, but Nahla Ramadan's story remained an inspiration well into her filmmaking career. It was in 2009, following her graduation from Alexandria University, that she joined the Jesuits Alexandria Film School where she was tutored by, among others, celebrated independent filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout before joining the crew of his film Hawi (2010). She later took part in= The Mice Room (2013), a film composed of contributions by six Alexandrian directors, most of whom were part of the production house Rufy's Films, established in 2009-2010. By then she had studied at Wellesley College and MIT on a Fulbright scholarship. Like other independent filmmakers in her circle, she wrote, edited (notably Mohamed Zydan's 2017 I Have a Picture) and produced as well as directing. In 2016 her short film A Stroll Down Sunflower Lane premiered at the Berlinale.
“It was in 2014 that a friend and a co-worker saw them during their training and told me of what he saw,” Zayed says of her encounter with Captain Ramadan and his team. “It was such a great moment and it reminded me of the idol of the 18-year-old girl I had been.” With a tiny crew (herself, Amrosh Badr and Rufy's Films cofounder cinematographer Mohamed El Hadidy), Zayed embarked on her journey with the weightlifters. “We would go and shoot once or twice a month. It was not easy at the beginning since the captain thought we might be journalists. But in the end he was convinced that we had good intentions. It took two years to decide which character we would follow. Zebiba was an amazing girl who never missed a training session and developed hugely between 2014 and 2018. She took part in all the championships in Alexandria until she became African champion twice in 2017 and 2018.”
The girls, she explains, built their glories out of nothing. “I wouldn't have imagined that making such a film would take up to six years, but I was eager to see the world of those champions. And I wasn't following just one girl's success story but also that of the man who believed in her and her peers – a strong man fond devoted to strong women. He had only a dump-like garden on the street in which to train them. It is the story of everything I admire, everything that inspires me.” There are many women's stories in the Arab arts, but most are stories of victimhood or victimisation. Lift Like a Girl is a story of accomplishment and triumph.
The film is an observational documentary, meaning there are no interviews, questions, scripted or prearranged scenes. “We would shoot for hours. We had up to 90 hours over four years, then I would watch the material and see what was missing so we could try and capture it on our next visit. And that is how we built up the puzzle, piece by piece.” That is partly because she wanted the film, which is dominated by narrative, to look like a fiction piece.
“The border between fiction and documentary is narrowing, and I wanted my film to have that fictional structure.” That is why she decided to work with an editor who works mostly on fiction films, Sara Abdullah. “It is the first film of mine that I did not edit. But Sara did amazing work. She astonished me with her way of turning long hours of shooting into a single, amazingly expressive scene. Thanks to her, this film became what it is now. Our long discussions, my back-and-forth trips between Cairo and Alexandria payed off.”
The six-year period in which the film was made reflects the fact that it follows the development of a character over time, but funding issues too had a part to play in slowing things down. “I made it the hard way, like any filmmaker making their debut. I don't believe filmmakers should make films out of their own pockets, and there is a hard lesson every independent filmmaker needs to learn which is how to navigate the funding map. It is very difficult but crucial. For three my funding requests were denied, my project rejected by every institution. Some foreign producers did not understand why we should make a film about happy and strong girls rather than harassment or abuse or oppression.”
In the end Lift Like a Girl was produced by Cléo Media, an Alexandria-based production house established by Zayed herself in 2020: “Cléo Media is an important step in my career for many reasons: it helps me to produce the films I want to make and know no one else is interested in, but also to support other female filmmakers and filmmakers making films about females. This is the focus of my production house.” Coproducers included JYOTI Film (partners and co-founders Anke Petersen and Anna Bolster) and Rufy's Films. As well as Abdullah and El Hadidi, the crew included Samir Nabil and Brian Dyrby (sound), Marian Mentrup (music) and Chrystel Elias (colour). The Toronto world premiere was great news for Zayed who hopes to go to other festivals as well, though her ultimate wish is that Egyptians should see the film and find out about Zebiba and her peers – and be inspired. That is why an “impact campaign” to screen the film at youth centers, public clubs and open spaces all across the country is underway.
“The place where the girl champions receive their training is very important for Egyptian sport. People need to know – and help. This film is about gold buried in dust.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Clic here to read the story from its source.