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Egypt to document cinematic heritage

The Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s National Center for Cinema has launched a project to digitize information about major players in the Egyptian film industry over the decades.
Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama in a scene from the 1954 Egyptian film "Siraa Fil-Wadi"

The National Center for Cinema is set to digitize the archives, files and documents of workers in the Egyptian film industry.

The project aims to digitize the files of 800 major film stars and artists, including Faten Hamama, Shoukry Sarhan, Adel Imam, Ahmed Zaki, Mahmoud Abdel Azizi, Mahmoud Yassin, Soad Hosny, Gamil Ratib, Shwikar, Laila Elwi, Nabila Ebeid and many more.

It is being done through the Cinematic Culture Center and under the supervision of Egyptian screenwriter and film critic Magdy al-Shahry.

The project also includes the files and documents of those who have played a major part of the Egyptian film industry, most notably directors Youssef Chahine, Hassan al-Imam, Henry Barakat, Atef el-Tayeb, Mohamed Khan, Ali Badrakhan, Mohamed Karim, Kamal el-Sheikh, Shadi Abdel Salam, Ashraf Fahmy, Mohamed Fadel, Yahya al-Alami, Houssam El-Din Mustafa and others.

The project also includes the names of prominent screenwriters, notably the world-renowned writer Naguib Mahfouz, Abdel-Hay Adib, Mahfouz Abdel Rahman, Mohamed al-Basousy, Wahid Hamed, Lenin al-Ramly, Mostafa Moharam and others. The names of cinematographers also figure in the documentation project, notably Wahid Farid, Mohsen Nasr, Abdel Aziz Fahmy, Ramses Marzouk, Mohsen Ahmed, Abdel Halim Nasr, Saeed Shaimi and Sameh Selim, among others.

As for the names of set and production designers in Egyptian cinema, the project includes Shadi Abdel Salam, Onsi Abou Seif, Salah Marei, Nohad Bahgat and others.

In a statement released on the National Center for Cinema’s Facebook page July 8, Shahry, who is also the director general of the Cinematic Culture Center, said the project comes within the framework of the Ministry of Culture’s efforts to preserve the history of the Egyptian movie industry. The cinematic archive has over 1,400 files and documents of artists and workers in the sector, which will be digitized and preserved on CDs, he added.

Mohammed Youssef al-Sharif, a film critic and chairman of the board of the Egyptian Association of Film Writers and Critics, praised the project, considering it a major step that should have been taken many years ago.

“Over 10 years ago, there were consultations and studies to establish a cinematheque that would be supervised by the National Center for Cinema. The cinematheque would have included all copies of Egyptian films that were produced over the past 125 years,” Sharif told Al-Monitor.

“We also wanted to preserve the machines that were used in filming, in addition to the old film posters and photographic films and everything related to the cinema industry, as well as television and radio production. But so far, nothing has materialized on the ground,” he added.

Sharif continued, “Two years ago, there was a meeting among senior and young film officials, some of whom were part of the lost history of Egyptian cinema and still have tangible memories from this history. When I asked them to share these memories and the documents they had — which are of great interest for filmmakers around the world and not just in Egypt — I was surprised to learn that they no longer had them. This is because when they present their products to the public at any festival at home or abroad, the National Center for Cinema has the right to use these materials without returning them to their owners.”

“If owners wish to present their works they need permission from the center, which has sadly brushed aside the bulk of the old Egyptian cinema history over the years and did not lift a finger when two Arab companies bought the assets of the most important historical films, despite the fact that they constitute a large part of Egyptian cinema history,” he added.

An Egyptian film producer who spoke on condition of anonymity had harsh words for the National Center for Cinema's practices. He told Al-Monitor via phone, “How could the National Center for Cinema have the right to document and register content in its name without this being a violation of copyrights of heritage owners? How could it use content for public and cultural purposes without referring to their owner first, and why would artistic works be registered in the center’s name? How could the center have the right to digitize cinema contents and use it for cultural purposes without the permission of the owners?”

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