Over a century has passed since the first film debut in Egypt. Thousands of memorable films were presented during those years, which formed a large part of the cinematic history of “East Hollywood”, and some of them even come on top of the list of the 100 best Arab films. Before becoming in tatters, after contracting films have become the hallmark of cinema lately.
Egyptian Cinema’s Position in the World
You might be surprised if you knew that Egypt’s relationship with cinema began at the same time it did in Europe and the whole world. Whereas, the first commercial cinematic show in the world was in December 1895 in Paris, and it was a silent film by the “Lumiere” brothers. A month later, the first cinema screening in Egypt was presented in Alexandria in January 1896, then followed by the first cinema screening in Cairo in the same month of the same year, and then the third cinematic show in Port Said in 1898.
Documentary Film Phase
Egyptian cinema did not differ in its early years from international cinema, which used to present documentaries, which are scenes that display animated pictures related to a specific topic, but without a narrative context. That is why the Lumiere brothers’ first mission in Egypt on March 10, 1897, filmed 35 films about daily life in Alexandria and Cairo. Likewise, the second “Lumiere” mission in 1906, which monitored pictures of natural places in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.
The real beginning of Egyptian cinema came on June 20, 1907, after “Aziz Benderley” and “Umberto Malavas” succeeded in presenting the first integrated Egyptian cinematic experience, by filming a silent documentary film about the visit of Khedive Abbas Helmy II to the Morsi Abu Abbas Institute in Alexandria.
Feature Film and Silent Cinema Phase
The first beginnings of a feature-length fictional cinema came in May 1927, with the film “A Kiss in the Desert”, followed by “Layla” in November of the same year. Also, during that period, director Mohamed Karim presented the first fictional film adapted from a literary work, the film “Zainab”, by Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, which was produced by the artist Youssef Wahbi. Due to the success of the film shown in 1930, it was remade in 1952 with talking technology.
Sound Cinema Phase
Egyptian cinema entered a new phase, which was the stage of Sound Cinema in March 1932, with the movie “Awlad al-Zawat” starring Youssef Wahbi and Amina Rizk.
Then came the movie “Onshodat al-Fouad”, which contributed greatly to the growth of the cinema audience, given that it was the first musical film in the history of Egyptian cinema, as it witnessed the appearance of the first Egyptian singer called Nadera, while the first singer to appear in the cinema was Mohamed Abdel Wahab in a movie “Alwarda Albaydhaa”.
The Thirties and Forties
This phase witnessed a new shift in the history of Egyptian cinema, as “Studio Misr” was established in 1935, and then “Studio Al-Nahhas” in 1946, and after World War II, cinematic production of films in Egypt increased from 16 films in 1944 to 67 films in 1946.
Attempts were made to color parts of the films, including coloring the song “The Day of the Two” from the movie “I am not an angel” by the artist Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, in 1946. The phenomenon of female directing also began through the work of female directors such as Aziza Amir in the film “My Blasphemy”, and Fatima Rushdie in “Marriage”, joyfully kept in “victims.”
Egyptian cinema during the thirties and forties witnessed a great diversity of subjects. Various types of films appeared, including the historical film, such as “Shajarat al-Durr”, or science fiction such as “Oyoun Sahera”, or comedy such as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”
The Fifties and Sixties Phase
This phase witnessed the production of the first full-fledged Egyptian film in natural colors, which is “Baba Aris” starring Naima Akef, Camelia and Shukri Sarhan. In 1951, artist Mohamed Fawzy experimented with coloring two of his films, “Alhob Fi Khatar” and “Nihayat Qisa”.
The movie “Dalilah” was also produced in the “Scoop” color scheme, in 1956, starring Shadia and Abdel Halim Hafez. After that, color films were produced, but in a limited way.
The 1960s witnessed the nationalization of the cinema industry in Egypt, when the “General Film Organization for the Production of Feature Narrative Films” was established, which follows the public sector in Egypt, which led to a decrease in the average number of films from 60 to 40 films per year.
The Seventies and Eighties
The “General Film Corporation” was liquidated in 1971, and a public authority was established that included cinema, theater and music together, which only funded the private sector. After the October 1973 war, color shooting prevailed in most films. In 1975 the first film dealing with the policy of openness was produced. It was “On Whom We Shot”, starring Souad Hosni, Mahmoud Yassin and Izzat Al-Alayli.
In the early 1980s, the term “Realism Stream” appeared, and they are a group of young directors who took it upon themselves to make serious cinematic films, including Atef Al-Tayeb, Raafat Al-Mihi, Khairy Bishara and Muhammad Khan. This brings the number of films produced in 1984 to 63.
As for the contracting films, they appeared in the mid-eighties. They are films that were produced with few budgets and weak capabilities, with the aim of exporting them to the Gulf countries, where the number of films in 1986 reached 95 films.
The nineties and the 2000s
With the beginning of the nineties, and especially after the Gulf War, the contracting films declined dramatically, and a new group of directors who had overcome the prevailing ideas in cinema at this time appeared, including Radwan Al-Kashef, Osama Fawzi and Saeed Hamed. Unfortunately, the annual film production rate has decreased.
Then a new wave of comedy films appeared, after “Ismailia Rayeh Gay”, which revived the film industry in Egypt. After comedy dominated most of the cinematic production, new types of action and action films appeared, as well as romantic films.
Women had a big share in the cinematic scene at that period, where many actresses starred in starring roles, such as “Ahla Alawkat.”, “Hob ElBanat”, “Ihki Ya Shahrazad” and “678”, and other films that have achieved great success.
If we look at the situation during that period, we will notice the decline of the “Hero’s Friend” phenomenon, which cinematic films initially relied on, and the term “Collective Leading Roles” appeared, which are huge films that include a group of great stars, such as “Sahar Al Layali” and “The Yacoubian Building” and “Baby Doll Night”.
2010 – 2020 Phase
This period witnessed, along with the continuation of action and comedy films, the emergence of a new type of “Popular Films”, which are interested in discussing the life and problems of the poor class, such as “Abdo Muta”, “When Maysara” and “Wlad Rizk”. These types of films had negative effects on Egyptian society, and they received a lot of criticism because of their containment of vulgar words and obscene words, in addition to a lot of disruptive scenes and erotic dances.
With the beginning of 2021, the film industry is facing a state of anticipation, as the audience hopes for a new season of cinematic production that brings with it the richness and diversity of the films produced in terms of quality rather than quantity.