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Egyptian Films

Mohammed Diab Scene from 678
Mohammed Diab Scene from 678

The Egyptian film industry is often called the Hollywood of the Arab world. Egyptian cinema was born in 1923, when Mohammed Bayoumi (1894-1963) returned from studying cinema in Germany and shot the first Egyptian movie, In the Land of Tutankhamun. From then until the 1960s, Egyptian cinema dominated screens across the Arab world, spreading Egyptian culture, music, and the Egyptian dialect throughout the region. Studios in Cairo turned out more than a hundred films a year during the 1940s and 1950s, a period considered the golden age of Egyptian cinema.

Among the great male stars of the classic movies are Rushdy Abaza (1926-1980), Shukri Sarhan (1925-1997), and Omar Sharif (born 1932), who shot to worldwide fame when he played the main role in the Hollywood production Dr. Zhivago. Female stars include Faten Hamama (born 1931), Nadia Lotfi (born 1938), and, doubtless the most famous, Soad Hosny (1943-2001).

The quality of Egyptian films declined after the 1970s. In the 1970s, Egyptian cinema began to produce films specifically for the Gulf, offering a mixture of sex, drugs, and violence. The 1980s witnessed the rise of movies revolving around one star, mainly the actresses Nabila Ebeid (born 1945) and Nadia al-Gondi (born 1950) and the actor Adel Imam (born 1940), who is considered today the most famous Egyptian actor. Other movie stars include Ahmed Zaki (1949-2005), Mahmoud Abdel Aziz (born 1946), and Yousra (born 1955).

By the late 1990s, a new wave of young Egyptian actors and actresses dominated the screen, producing what are known as shababi (youth) movies. Most of them were mediocre comedies. The phenomenon of ‘contractor movies’, which were meant only to fill the cinemas with cheap and uncomplicated entertainment, did little to help. If fact, comedy and slapstick slowly became staples of the Egyptian cinema.

Mohammed Sharif and Julie Christy in Dr. Zhivago

With the increasing number of satellite Egyptian and Arab entertainment channels, however, there was a greater demand for Egyptian movies, reviving the industry and allowing the emergence of a few promising actors and directors. During the last years of Mubarak’s rule, a number of more daring films were produced, such as the politically critical Imarat Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building) in 2007 and Heya Fawda? (Is It Chaos?) by the notable directors Youssef Chahine (1926-2008) and his protégé Khaled Youssef (born 1965) in 2008. Mohammed Diab’s 678 and Mohammed Amin’s Binteen fi Masr (Two Girls in Egypt) both came out in 2010 and were highly critical of women’s issues, the first one dealing with sexual harassment and the second with the life and problems of the average single Egyptian woman.

Since the revolution, Egyptian cinema has collapsed completely, due on the one hand, to the economic situation – with poverty on the rise, buying a cinema ticket has become difficult – and on the other hand, to the old formula of mindless comedy, which is less and less appealing to people who expected the Egyptian cinema industry to be more involved in current issues, and most films still star the same celebrities, some of whom gained bad reputations for their support of Mubarak.

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