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Review: Lift Like a Girl

July 10, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Captain Ramadan is training the next generation of female weightlifters in Egypt, with his outdoor facility surrounded by chain link fencing on a street corner in the port city of Alexandria providing both a training ground and safe haven for girls who want to get into the sport.

The Captain’s own daughter, Nahla Ramadan, was an Olympic athlete and world campion weightlifter, and now he is focused on finding the next great. His sights are set on Zebiba (Arabic for “raisin”), a shy teen girl who is capable of lifting but needs help boosting her self-confidence

Egyptian filmmaker Mayye Zayed takes us into this world in Lift Like a Girl, an observational documentary that allows us to witness how this walled off corner of the bustling city is providing a space for both champions to be born and gender norms to be challenged. The film follows Zabiba over several years, with Zayed’s camera capturing a number of setbacks and triumphs as she trains extensively under the tutelage of Captain Ramadan, and competes in world class competitions.

While there are aspects and details of Zebiba’s life that are left out, with Zayed employing a purely vérité approach and focusing mainly on long scenes of her training, what emerges is an engaging fly on the wall portrait of perseverance and female empowerment in the heart of Egypt. Captain Ramadan is a caring but harsh figure who yells and swears at the girls, which can be jarring for Western sensibilities, but he also gets them to recognize their abilities and encourages them to try harder.

The film mostly plays out with no music, with the sounds of the city and the clanging of barbells dropping to the ground taking centre stage on the soundtrack. The few moments that do feature music bring in a percussive, metallic score that compliments these sounds. Even if we are occasionally left wanting more context or character development, this is still an engaging documentary that offers an interesting glimpse into a unique form of female empowerment in a different part of the world.

Lift Like a Girl is now playing in select theatres across Canada as part of The Impact Series. It will be available on iTunes and theimpactseries.net on July 20th.

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