Shadi AbdulSala is one of the most prominent directors in the history of Egyptian cinema. He loved the Pharaonic civilization and was influenced by it, and his name was associated with many works that dealt with the ancient Egyptian civilization until he was called “The Pharaoh of Cinema” and “The Last Pharaoh.” With his only feature film, “The Mummy,” he managed to reach international status, as it was the first Egyptian movie to be shown in all countries of the world. The International Critics Association chose him in Vienna among the 100 most important international directors. On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of his death, we present to you the most prominent stations in the life of the genius filmmaker Shadi Abdel Salam.
His Birth & Early Life
Shadi Muhammad Mahmoud Abd al-Salam al-Sabah was born on March 15, 1930, in Minya, into a family consisting of two brothers and one sister, and his father was a senior legal advisor. He grew up influenced by ancient Egyptian history and pharaonic antiquities, which constituted a historical reference in most of his works. He graduated from “Victoria College” School in Alexandria in 1948, then traveled to England to study theater arts in 1949. He also joined the College of Fine Arts in Cairo, graduating as an architect with distinction in 1955. After graduation, he worked as a professor at the Film Institute, Department of Clothing and Decoration, between 1963 and 1969. He also worked as director of the Documentary Film Center at the Ministry of Culture in 1970.
His film career
Despite obtaining an honors degree, Shadi Abdel Salam did not want to work as an architect and chose to work in cinema. The beginning came in 1957 when director Salah Abu Seif was asked to work with him. He began his film career with the movie “Al-Fittwah,” where he recorded the time taken to shoot scenes.
After that, he worked with Salah Abu Seif as an interior designer on the films The Empty Pillow, The Dead End, and I’m Free”. He also worked with the most famous directors at the time, such as Henri Barakat and Helmy Halim. In addition, he designed the decoration and the special clothes for a large number of films that were dominated by the historical character, including “Wa Islamiah, Cleopatra, Antar bin Shaddad, Almaz and Abdo Al-Hamouli, Sins, Shafiqa the Coptic, Raba’a Al-Adawiya, Been Al Kasserine, Princess of Arabs, Prince of shrewdness, lights of the city, Al-Nasir Salah Dine.”
In addition to designing the decor, Shadi Abdel Salam worked as an assistant director in several films, most of which were directed by foreign directors, as he participated in the Polish film “The Pharaoh” directed by Cavalero Fitch, the film “Islamah” directed by Andrew Marton, the Italian film “Civilization” directed by Roberto Roslin, and the American film “Cleopatra” directed by Josef Milankovitch.
After assuming the position of director of the Documentary Film Center at the Ministry of Culture, Shadi Abdel Salam directed some narrative and short films, including: “The Complaints of the Eloquent Farmer” in 1970, Horizons in 1972, Army of the Sun in 1974, Tutankhamun’s Chair in 1982, Al-Ahram and Before in 1984, and Ramses II in 1986.
A huge success for the movie The Mummy
In 1976, Shadi Abdel Salam wrote the movie “The Mummy,” which deals with the theft of Egyptian antiquities. His idea was inspired by the discovery of the Deir el-Bahari cache, which contained the mummies of Egypt’s greatest kings and pharaohs. However, the film did not come out until 1975, with great success. He won 16 international awards, including the “Georges Sadoul” award in Paris. It was also celebrated by international festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival. It was selected in third place in the list of the 100 best Egyptian films. The International Film Foundation, founded by the great American director Martin Scorsese, chose it as one of the most important films in the history of world cinema and restored the original version of the film after it was about to be damaged.
A pharaonic curse and an unfinished movie
In 1983, Shadi Abdel Salam was reading about Amarna, so he got the idea for the movie “Akhenaten,” which was supposed to deal with the story of the pharaonic king not only during his reign but also from the perspective of the previous era and the era that follows it. The director chose to star in the film, the artist Mohamed Sobhi and the artist Nadia Lotfi, and he began to implement one of his most important dreams and projects, which took many years to prepare because he stopped several times for various reasons, including rewriting the script of the film dozens of times before settling on the final version. Not to mention the huge budget required to produce the film, which amounted to half a million pounds, a huge amount in the seventies. Shadi Abdel Salam tried to collect it from Egypt and France, but he died at the time, and the film did not come out. Which made some talk about the curse of the pharaohs that hit the movie and caused it to stop.
His cancer and death
Shadi Abdel Salam suffered from bone cancer and traveled to Switzerland for a two-month treatment trip, during which he underwent many surgeries, before leaving our world on October 8, 1986, at the age of 56 years.
Shadi Abdel Salam Museum
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina established a museum for Shadi Abdel Salam’s holdings, which was opened on March 15, 2005, to celebrate his diamond jubilee. The museum contains some of his personal belongings, his office furniture, and his private library, as well as a set of paintings of decorative and clothing designs for his works, several movie clips taken from the films in which he participated or directed, in addition to the medals, awards and certificates he obtained during his life and after his death.
Attached to the museum is the “Afaaq” hall, in which he displays daily the films he directed and the films in which he participated as a clothing and decor designer, as well as some of the television interviews he conducted, and some films and programs that tackled his life and work.