5 Major Turning Points in the History of Egyptian Cinema

From horse-drawn vehicles to the Ferrari and from rotary dial telephones to today’s iPhone, the movie industry too has gone through its own development process to reach its modern looks.

Starting from the late 19th century with astonishing-at-the-time continuous frames of still pictures, passing by the era of silent movies and reaching the time of non-silent black and white movies that lasted until colored films saw the light of day, another development phase was set to start. This new phase, which reached the astounding visuals we see nowadays, gets you wondering that maybe evolution isn’t just restricted to living creatures after all.

Egyptian Cinema was no exception. Such an industry, which was introduced to our lands in the late 1920s, kept its development persistent until it was shaped the way we see today. Attaining this format passed by critical turning points in history that reshaped its structure and assigned it a unique personality. We gathered five of the most iconic events that shaped Egyptian cinema, so you can know more about how your favorite motion pictures affected today’s movie industry.

1- Sera3 Fel Wady (1954)

The reason behind Youssef Chahine’s second time in Cannes, the movie Sera3 Fel Wady, was Egypt’s most internationally acclaimed movie of a lot that followed, as well as Egypt’s first encounter with an actor named Omar Sharif. The 1954 black and white film witnessed Chahine’s start of being our regular ambassador in global cinematic forums. His films changed how the world sees us; through distinguished art and a consistent level of production, disregarding the general state and fluctuating mood of Egyptian cinema along his working years. The enthusiasm Chahine occupied had him nominated three times for Cannes festival’s greatest award, the Palme d’Or, and twice for the festival’s Grand Prize. His winning of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s 50th anniversary was Egypt’s biggest honor at the French lands. It was during Sera3 Fel Wady when Egypt started exporting talents, and also when Omar Sharif caught the attention of Hollywood, ending up being casted in major productions as Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia that later nominated him for his Oscar in 1963. Finally, if it wasn’t for Sera3 Fel Wady, Egypt wouldn’t have known its most loved on-screen and off-screen couple; Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama.

2- Dalila (1956)

1956’s Dalila was the first Egyptian movie in color, starring the film’s producer, Egypt’s beloved Abdelhalim Hafez, accompanied by the adorable Shadya, in a stylish Egyptian musical. Back in the day, Egyptian filmmakers were in a head-to-head competition with foreigners in the movie industry, so the color feature knew its way to Egyptian movies by the time it was introduced in Hollywood. Back then, it was a privilege to have colors implemented in a project due to high expenses, so, even after Dalila, not all Egyptian filmmakers tended to benefit from such an advantage -especially after Dalila’s weak performance in the Egyptian Box Office. Money aside, Egypt’s nightingale indeed left a legacy of unforgettable songs.

3- Se3edy Fel Gam3a El Americya (1998)

This 1998 comedy, was a major set piece in the Egyptian cinema, and one of the finest comedies ever made. The film, in addition to introducing today’s generation of actors, introduced the concept of collaborative starring to the Egyptian market, when all that was known were one-star films. Being one of the highest grossing Egyptian movies with 27 million EGP (eight million USD at that time), it also supported the trend of relying on uprising actors in the starring roles, after first tested in 1997’s Isma3lia Rayeh Gayy, with success that stole the attention from 90’s stars Adel Emam and Ahmed Zaki. Producers, after Se3edy Fel Gam3a El Americya, were in favor of investing in new talents due to their repeated successes, giving the green light later for stars as Karim Abdel Aziz, Alaa Walyy El-Deen and Ahmed Helmy to escort this project’s cast on their quest for their amazing future.

4- Tito (2004)

Who wouldn’t agree with the fact that Tito is one of the best (if not the best) Arab action movie? The 2004 masterpiece starring Ahmed El Sakka took the action sequences in our movies to a whole new level. Prior to Tito, the Egyptian audience’s idea regarding action was summarized in a poorly-executed chasing scene followed by an even less impressive car explosion. However, what Tito offered had to disagree with likely preceding projects, and raised the ceiling for challengers. For the first time ever, Egyptians saw excellent chases and Hollywood-like explosions totaling 20-minute sequences that cost the producers five million EGP (800 K USD at that time). Crafted in a strong, dramatic plot, great acting performances and an outstanding soundtrack, Tito was an exceptional cinematic experience that changed the Egyptian audience’s thoughts about this genre, having them believe that Hollywood’s stunts were no longer a myth, taking place in their very streets and neighborhoods.

5- The Blue Elephant (2014)

The act of adapting novels to cinema had taken a long dive, up until 2006’s Yacoubian Building. It disappeared again for eight years until The Blue Elephant hit theaters in 2014, marking its huge comeback. For the first time ever, a local movie displayed an impeccable metaphysical, spiritual plot in regards to the portrayal of visuals effects and cinematography, turning our standards for quality upside down and crowning the movie as the best visual film Egypt had ever seen. It’s fair to say that various aspects present in The Blue Elephant can be compared to -and sometimes suppress- foreign productions that were once nominated in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Movie, and it got us hoping to officially compete for such an award someday. The capabilities of The Blue Elephant proved that we can reach this objective, which is the highest a movie has ever raised our expectations; beginning a new era with new filmmakers where the head-to-head competition with those abroad could be restored.

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