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Ahmed Zaki and Youssef Chahine are the most prominent figures who presented it in Egyptian cinema… So why are biographical films absent from Egyptian cinema?

There are many genres presented by filmmakers in Egypt. We find show films, comedies, historical and romantic, even horror and fantasy, which Egyptian cinema did not neglect. But a good observer of cinema in Egypt notes a pattern of genres that have been subjected to marginalization and neglect. They are rather absent from cinema in our country, which is biographical films.

Despite our long history full of important and influential personalities who can be presented in hundreds of films, in honor of their achievements and contributions to society and the country in various fields, and for their memory to remain immortal in the minds of viewers. However, most producers have refrained from presenting that type of film because you may easily fail and expose them to the loss for being a thorny field. This is due to several reasons, including, for example, the families of these personalities, which may impose restrictions on production, and are keen to play the role of watchdog and accountant for work events. It is also due to production reasons. For example, these films may require shooting in locations that are not permitted unless security clearances are obtained. In addition, the profits of these films may not cover their high production costs because they are not very popular with the Egyptian audience.

However, some film experiences broke that rule and dealt with the biography of a group of prominent and influential personalities. In the following article, we review with you a group of the most important of those cinematic experiences.

Abu Zaid Al-Hilali 1947

The film tells the story of the knight “Abu Zaid al-Hilali”, the prince of Bani Hilal and the commander of the Arab armies. The story begins when his mother, “the honorable Khadra”, saw a powerful crow and wished God to give her a child of his strength, even if he was of the same color. Her wish was granted for Abu Zaid Al-Hilali to come with black skin, which made his father, “Rizk Al-Hilali” accuse his wife of treason and expel her from the tribe, so she resorted to the tribe of Bani Zahlan. “Abu Zaid” grows up to become a guerrilla knight, and a war erupts between the tribes of Bani Hilal and Bani Zahlan. “Abu Zaid” fights his father, Rizk, which makes the mother recognize his son’s true lineage. When the two meet on the battlefield, “Rizk” feels something about “Abu Zeid”, so he recognizes him as his son, and restores respect to his mother, whom he accused of adultry. “Abu Zaid” returns to the “Bani Hilal” tribe and fights in their ranks.

Khalid ibn al-Walid 1958

The film reviewed the life story of the companion Khalid bin Al-Waleed, whom the Prophet called the “Striking Sword of God”. The film tackles his journey since he was a polytheist and fighting the Islamic call, to the extent that he was the reason for the defeat of Muslims in the Battle of Uhud. Until God has lead him to convert to Islam after the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, where he became one of the strongest and most intelligent leaders of the Islamic armies. Khalid bin Al-Walid was known to have participated in the apostasy wars, where he was fighting the apostates from Islam, the most famous of which was Musaylimah the Liar, who claimed to be a prophet. The film also touched on participation in the fight and defeat of the Persians and the Romans, and the conquest of Iraq and the Levant.

Jamila 1958

The film traces the story of the struggle of the Algerian girl, Jamila Bou Harid, who joined the Algerian Liberation Front in the struggle against French colonialism when she was twenty years old. Jamila participates in many commando operations, until she is arrested after being shot in the shoulder. Jamila is tortured by Colonel Bejar until she confesses the names of the fedayeen and their hiding places, but she bravely endures all kinds of torture and refuses to betray her homeland. One of the fedayeen manages to smuggle documents condemning the torture of “Gamila” and sends them to Egypt for broadcast so that the world learns about the case of “Gamila”, forcing the French to hold a mock trial and sentence her to death. But after the United Nations Human Rights Committee met, after receiving millions of cables of denunciation from all over the world, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and after Algeria’s independence in 1962, Jamila was released from prison and assumed the presidency of the Algerian Women’s Union.

Antar Ibn Shaddad 1961

The film deals with the life story of the brave knight and pre-Islamic poet “Antar bin Shaddad”, who was fathered by “Shaddad”, the prince of Bani Abs, from his slave-girl “Zubaydah” and refused to recognize him, so he became a slave serving his father. Antar falls in love with his cousin, Abla, who refuses to marry his daughter to a black slave, and tries to disable him by asking for a large dowry of 1,000 camels from the “King Al-Nu’man” she-camels. Antar travels to a faraway country to obtain Abla’s dowry, after facing hardships and horrors. And he returns years later to find his girlfriend almost marrying his rival. The two wrestle and Antar wins and marries Abla.

Shafiqa the Coptic 1962

The film tells the story of the life of “Shafiqa the Coptic”, the most famous Egyptian dancer in the nineteenth century. She was famous for dancing in front of the elite of the pashas, ministers and senior statesmen. Shafiqa is forced to leave her child, Aziz, in her mother’s care, after her father disavowed her, expelled her from the house and prevented her from seeing her son. Aziz grew up and fell in love with Souad, the daughter of Asaad Fahmy Pasha, the prime minister, who was Shafiqa’s lover. When “Aziz” proposed to his girlfriend, her father refused, insulted him and expelled him from his home. Shafiqa wanted to avenge her son, so she exposed Asaad in front of his wife and insulted him, so he punished her by issuing an arrest warrant for her son. Shafiqa resorted to alcohol and drugs, lost her money in gambling and sold her palace, when the news of her son’s death in detention as a result of torture reached her. However, he was alive and managed to escape from the prison and returned to his grandmother’s house to find “Shafiqa” who had no one to turn to after her condition deteriorated except for her mother, and “Shafiqa” dies in the arms of her son, who finally learned from his grandmother that “Shafiqa” is his mother.

Nasser Salahuddin 1963

The film presented the life story of the commander “Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi” who succeeded in uniting the ranks of the Arab armies to liberate Jerusalem from the Crusader occupation, in what was known historically as the Battle of Hattin. Despite the signing of a peace treaty, “Renaud de Chatillon”, the leader of the Crusader army, attacked and slaughtered the pilgrims going to Mecca, so Saladin decides to take revenge on him, defeating him and taking him as a captive. His wife, Virginia, begins assembling the kings and princes of Europe to liberate Jerusalem under the leadership of “Richard the Lionheart”, King of England, and with the participation of “Philip Augustus”, King of France, and “Conrad” King of Jerusalem, to carry out the Third Crusade. Saladin manages to defeat the Crusaders, and amid many conspiracies and intrigues, Richard discovers the betrayal of all his allies who tried to kill him, so he surrenders and signs a truce with Saladin, and Jerusalem remains under the rule of Muslims.

Sayed Darwish 1966

The film tells the life story of the singer and composer “Sayed Darwish”, nicknamed the People’s Artist, from his birth in Alexandria in 1892, until his sudden death on September 10, 1923, at the age of 31. Through his move to Cairo and his love story for the dancer “Galila”, which he loved deeply and became a source of inspiration for him. The film also reviews his national participation during the events of the 1919 revolution. In addition to the most important stations in his life and his most important tunes and songs, which made him the first composer in Egypt. It is worth mentioning that Sayed Darwish’s most famous melodies are the national anthem “My Country, My Country” written by Sheikh Yunus Al-Qadi and redistributed by the musician Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab. It has been the national anthem of Egypt since 1989 to this day.

Shaima: The Prophet’s sister 1972

The film manifests the life story of “Al-Shayma bint Al-Harith,” the sister of the Prophet Muhammad during breastfeeding, as she is the daughter of “Halima Al-Saadia,” the Prophet’s nurse. With the spread of the Islamic call, the entire “Shayma” family believes in our master Muhammad, except for her husband, “Bejad,” who ally with the enemies of Islam against our master Muhammad and colludes with the Jews and Abu Jahl. Bejad is injured during the conquest of Mecca, and his hostility to Islam increases. Hence, the Prophet orders his blood to be shed. Shayma goes to the Messenger, asking for forgiveness for her husband, so the Messenger responds to her request. Pejad climbs to the top of the mountain and declares his conversion to Islam.

Badia Masabni 1975

The film chronicles the life story of the Lebanese actress and dancer, “Badia’a Masabni,” nicknamed the Dean of Belly Dancing. The film’s events occur at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The film relied on the flashback method. It begins with “Badi’ah” in old age. She gives advice to a girl who wants to work as a dancer and tells her story and the situation she has reached due to her dancing profession. Badia Masabni relives her life since childhood, reviewing her rape in Lebanon at the age of seven, her emigration to Egypt and how she entered the field of art, then the story of her marriage to the artist Najib Al-Rihani, and their divorce despite the strong love story that brought them together. In addition, she was betrayed by her nephew. He sought to thwart and bankrupt her casino, an academy of arts from which the biggest art stars of the time graduated. Taxes seized it and sold it to the dancer “Baba Ezz El-Din.” Then the film covers Badia’s escape from Egypt to her native Lebanon, and her death alone on July 23, 1974, at the age of 82.

Rise to the Abyss 1978

The film presented a true story from the Egyptian intelligence files of a traitorous spy named “Heba Selim,” whose name was changed in the film to “Abla Kamel.” The events occur after the setback of 67, where “Abla” suffers from her permanent differences with her family. She also entered into an affair with a wealthy young man who evaded her by traveling abroad, which made her not hesitate to accept a mission to study literature at Sorbonne University. However, she decided not to return to Egypt. Abla gets to know her university colleague, Madeleine and enters into a gay relationship with her. Madeleine introduced her to the Israeli intelligence officer, Edmond, who was able to recruit her. She told him many military secrets that enabled Israel to hit the Egyptian missile sites. “Abla” was also able to recruit “Sabri Abdel Moneim,” an engineer in the armed forces. Officer “Khaled Selim” took over the detection of the spy, and took advantage of her father’s presence in Tunisia, and managed, in agreement with Tunisian intelligence, to lure her into visiting her father after claiming his illness. Khaled lured her to board a plane bound for Egypt at the airport, where she was arrested and sentenced to death. “Sabri” was also arrested and tried militarily, where he was executed by firing squad.

Alexandria why 1978

This film is the first in a series of films Director Youssef Chahine addressed his biography, followed by Egyptian, Alexandria violin and violin, and Alexandria – New York. All of these films provided glimpses of Youssef Chahine in different stages of his life. The aim was to focus on the events he witnessed over the years of his life, which he was influenced by and contributed to forming his awareness and view of things, using the pseudonym “Yahya.” The film presented the story of “Yahya” in his youth, as he is a Christian student at Victoria School in Alexandria, loves acting and dreams of traveling to America. The film also dealt with scenes from social and political life in Alexandria during World War II, reviewing the story of a group of young people who want to resist the British occupation.

Sultana Al Tarab 1979

The film dealt with the life story of the artist “Munira Al-Mahdia”, nicknamed Sultana Al-Tarab. She is the first woman to stand on stage in the Arab world, and she is also the first Arab singer to record music records with her voice. The events begin with “Zakia Mansour”, which is the original name of “Munira al-Mahdiyya”, as she was a simple peasant working with her sister in the land of the Pasha, “Midhat Nour al-Din”. Zakia marries the pasha’s son, Mohsen, in an accident. Al-Safarji, “Shalabi”, the only witness against the husband, gave the child to the Pasha’s wife and told her the truth, so she raised her as an adopted child and named her “Afaf”, while Shalabi told her mother that the child had died. Zakia travels to Cairo and sings professionally with Shafiqa the Coptic, and changes her name to Munira al-Mahdiyya. The Pasha starts attending her concerts, and when he makes sure that Afaf is his granddaughter, he tells Zakia that her daughter is alive and asks her for forgivness.

Naji Al-Ali 1992

The film sheds light on the life story of the Palestinian cartoonist “Naji Al-Ali” from his childhood until his death at the age of 50. The events of the film begin after the assassination that he was exposed to in London on August 29, 1987, then the events return in a flash way to see the stations that “Naji Al-Ali” went through, which began with his emigration with his family to Lebanon after the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and then his work in Kuwait, Then he returned to Lebanon again during the period of the Lebanese Civil War. The film also reviews his most prominent political positions, as he used his satirical caricatures to express the issues of the Palestinian people and reject the Zionist occupation.

The spy Hikmat Fahmy 1994

The film tells the story of actress and dancer Hikmat Fahmy, nicknamed Sultana El Gharam, who worked as a spy for Germany against the Allies during the Second World War, thinking that she was helping Egypt get rid of the British occupation. Where the German officer “Hans Eppler”, who claimed to be an Egyptian named “Hussein Jaafar”, asked Hikmat, who was the mistress of the English general “William Samson”, to spy on the English forces. Although she initially refused, a group of patriotic Egyptian officers asked her to join them to serve Egypt by agreeing to the German offer. She was able to lure the largest English leaders to obtain secret information from them. She was also able to steal the war plan from General Samson, who felt the danger of the matter and was able to arrest Ebler, who confessed to Hikmat. Samson arrested her and tortured her to confess to her colleagues. However, she endured torture and refused to confess, so he decided to execute her. During the execution of the sentence, Egyptian officers and a group of fedayeen were able to rescue Hikmat.

Nasser 56 1996

The film discusses an important period of the rule of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the period of the nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956. Which was announced to be nationalized as a means of financing the project to build the High Dam, after America, Britain and the World Bank withdrew the offer of financing the project suddenly, and the result of this insurance was the tripartite aggression against Egypt. The film reviewed Gamal Abdel Nasser’s relationship with the ministers and the Revolutionary Command Council, and also dealt with aspects of his personal life and his relationship with his father, wife and children.

Destiny 1997

The film tells the story of the philosopher “Averroes “. its events take place in Andalusia in the twelfth century, specifically during the rule of the Caliph “Abu Jaafar al-Mansur”. The film reviews the struggle of “Averroes “, who calls for diligence, with the political authority represented by the caliph, who was a friend to him and became hostile to him, and with the extremist religious authority represented by Sheikh “Riyad” who calls for imitating the predecessor, a conflict that results in the burning of Averroes’ books

Sadat’s Days 2001

The film presented the life story of the former President of the Republic, “Mohamed Anwar Sadat”. The film begins with his assumption of the presidency after the death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, then returns to the past through a flashback to review his role in resisting the British occupation, and his cooperation with German intelligence during the Second World War, passing through his imprisonment and his dismissal from the army, before returning to it Once again, he joins the Free Officers Organization and participates in the July 23 Revolution. The film also records important historical events such as the evacuation of the British from Egypt, the assumption of the presidency by “Abdel Nasser”, the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the tripartite aggression, and the 1967 war, as well as the revolution of correction following the death of “Abdel Nasser”. The film highlighted Sadat’s surprise visit to Jerusalem, his speech in the Israeli Knesset, and the signing of the peace treaty at Camp David. The events of the film end with the assassination of “Sadat” in 1981, during a military parade on the occasion of the October anniversary. The film was not limited to the political aspect of Sadat’s life, as it also dealt with the social aspect of his life by monitoring the strong love relationship that brought him together with his second wife, Mrs. Jihan El-Sadat.

Halim 2006

The film deals with the life story of the artist “Abdul Halim Hafez”, nicknamed “The Dark Nightingale”. The idea of the film is a talk show on Egyptian radio between Abdel Halim and a journalist called Ramzy. Through this dialogue, “Abdul Halim” recalls the various stages of his life through a flashback. To tell the suffering he faced at the beginning of his life and his journey to stardom. He reviewed his relationship with the musician of generations, “Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab”, and the competition between him and the planet of the East “Umm Kulthum”, as well as his relationship with his fellow poets, composers and journalists, including “Kamal Al-Taweel”, “Mohammed Al-Mouji”, “Salah Jahin” and the two brothers “Mustafa and Ali Amin”. The film also deals with Abdel Halim’s political relations, his relationship with the July 23 revolution and its leaders, the shock of the 67 setback, and the joy of the October 73 victory. The film did not overlook the emotional life of Nightingale and his unfinished love story, then the story of his illness and death on March 30, 1977 at the age of 47, while he was at King’s College Hospital in London for treatment. It is worth noting that the movie “Halim” was shown at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Al-Fagoumi 2011

The film chronicles the life story of the great poet “Ahmed Fouad Negm”, nicknamed Al-Fagoumi. With the names of the real personalities changed for legal reasons, the poet’s name becomes “Adham Fouad Nasr”. The events begin in 1959, when “Ahmed Fouad Negm” was a simple worker in the mechanical transport workshops, and soon enters the prison and gets acquainted with a group of communists. The film sheds light on the struggle of “Ahmed Fouad Negm” in fighting the British occupation of Egypt, and his opposition to the policies of the rulers after the 1952 revolution, in addition to the repression and persecution he was subjected to, and his multiple arrests. The film also deals with his relationship with a lifelong friend, “Sheikh Imam Issa”, with whom he began a journey of housing, struggle, and joint imprisonment. As well as his relationship with his two wives, “Safinaz Kazem” and “Azza Balbaa”. The film concludes with the January 25 revolution, which was foretold by “Al-Fagoumi” thirty years ago.

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