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Egyptian Film History


Promio, one of the Lumiere photographers, came to make shorts films and showed them in Egypt in January 1896.

By 1908 Egypt had 10 movie houses with 5 in Cairo and 3 in Alexandria. As Egyptians watched the films made by outsiders who were using Egypt as a location, more and more interest developed.

In 1912, Egyptian producer Abdel Rahman Salheya hired outside technicians to make the first Egyptian short films.

By 1917, the industry had grown to about 80 theaters throughout Egypt. An Italian photographer living in Alexandria, Omberto Doris, built a studio and produced films like "The Bedouin's Honor", "Poisonous Flowers" and "Towards the Precipice". These were still not considered pure Egyptian films.

The greatest one achievement was in 1925 which was the initiation by royal decree of "Misr Company for Acting and Cinema, " as one of Bank Misr establishments.

Then in 1927 the first full length silent movie, Layla was produced. Then in 1932, Awlad al-Zawat, or High-Class Society, came out as the country's first talking film starring theatre moguls Yusuf Wahbi and Amina Rizk.

Wahbi, dubbed Egypt's Sir Lawrence Olivier, was one of several leading theatre actors who enriched the cinematic industry in its early years.

The real move forward in the field establishing cinema studios in Egypt was realized by the great Egyptian economist, Talaat Harb, who founded Studio Misr in 1935.

This studio undertook production depending on its existing cinematic facilities and direct financing from "Misr Company for Acting and Cinema" . The studio made these facilities accessible to other producers, just as it distributed films it produced, and other people's films.

Studio Misr and its school became a solid foundation for the cinema industry in Egypt. It had been planned with this intention in mind as expressed by Talat Harb, in his speech at the inaugural ceremony on 12 October 1935. He said it was one of the industrial economic projects of Bank Misr aiming to make available all the requirements of making films to all workers in the field.

The studio's policy was to hire foreign experts in the different cinematic specializations and appoint Egyptian assistants who could learn from them. It also sent Egyptian missions to study cinema abroad even before building the studio itself. And the first mission was sent in 1933 and included Ahmad Badrakhan and Morris Kassab who studied film direction in France, and Mohammad Abdel Azim and Hassan Murad who studied photography in Germany.

The success of the part played by Studio Misr was an incentive for other studios to be established. Five were built, and all contributed to the continuation of the cinema industry in Egypt although they were different in both their function and the nature of their production and distribution.

The July 1952 Revolution:

The Revolution leaders headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser took in the Cinema culminated in the state recognizing the cinema as "a cultural" or rather "a guidance industry. This resulted in issuing laws to support the Film industry.

The High Cinema institute established by the Government only seven years after the July 1952 Revolution. The first batch graduated in 1963 and it still produces young people who graduate from it annually in all cinema specialisations. This revolution produced the emergence of a new bright generation with names like Omar Sharif, Suad Husni and comedy giant Ismail Yasin.

With the beginning of the sixties, the cinema was nationalized in Egypt, meaning that big companies and studios were owned by the state. As all other nationalized businesses, it belonged to what was known as the "public sector".

Nationalizing the Cinema and putting it under the control of the public sector administration had both positive and negative impact.

In the early 70s, the production sector was denationalized with the exception of the studios sector and the two film distribution companies and cinema houses.

Production capacity has gone down from an annual average of 80 movies in the 1980s to less than 20 a year, but they believe that, more than anything else, Egyptian films have contributed to spreading their country's culture and its famous Arabic dialect across the region.

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