Cinematography in Egypt developed earlier and more widely than in neighboring Arab countries. The device of the Lumière brothers arrived in Alexandria just ten days after the well-known Parisian screening; from the beginning of the 20th century a discrete salt circuit was formed; in 1911 the first laws on exercise were enacted.
After the First World War, due to the import ban, foreigners promote a reduced local production of short films and a newsreel, “Per le vie di Alessandria”. But it was only after the nationalist revolution of 1919 that the first cinematographic structures and institutions were created (the Egyptian Society of Theater and Cinema was born in 1925) and an entirely Egyptian production began to take place. In 1923 Muḥammad Bayūmī made al-Bāš kātib (“The Senior Employee”), a short film based on the story of a dancer who seduces and brings to ruin a senior official. In 1927, Layla was released, a melodrama interpreted by ῾Azīza Amīr and directed by Istifān Rūstī which was followed, in the same year, by Qubla fī al-ṣaḥrā ‘ (“A Kiss in the Desert”), a ” Western Bedouin ” by the Lebanese Ibrāhīm Lāmā. But the most important film of the silent period is Zaynab (1930), based on a novel by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal and signed by Muḥammad Karīm, also author of the first sound film, Awlād al-zawat (“The sons of the nobles”, 1932).
The advent of sound led to the development of a very popular genre, still widely diffused in Egypt, the danced and sung film, in which directors Muḥammad Karīm and Aḥmad Badr H̱ān stand out. In the Thirties, melodramas and comedies predominated, while theater and literature provided most of the subjects. From 1936, with the founding of Studio Miṣr, the first cinema establishment in the Arab world, production underwent a notable increase.
Alongside the commercial trends, the first attempts at social realism begin. The film that marks the beginning of the realistic trend is al-῾Azīma (“The Will”, 1939), by Kamāl al-Sālim, followed in the 1940s by al-Sūq al-sawdā ‘ (“The black market”, 1945) by Kamāl al-Tilmisānī and al-Nā ‘ib al-‘ām (“The Attorney General”, 1946) by Aḥmad Kāmil Mūrsī. In 1947, however, the new censorship law put an end to this current and great impulse was given to genre cinema (still melodramas, musicals, Bedouin westerns and comedies) in which Niyāzī Muṣṭafā stands out, one of the most prolific Egyptian directors, active from 1937 until the seventies.
With the Nasserian revolution of 1952, the trend of social realism resumed, thanks above all to Ṣalāḥ Abū Sayf, who continued in the line of al-Sālim, of which he had been assistant director, also welcoming the suggestions of Italian neorealism. The major films of Abu Sayf (Lak yawm yā ẓālim, “Your day will come”, 1951; al-Usṭa Ḥasan, “Hasan the master builder”, 1952; al-Futuwwa, “The bully”, 1957) are joined by those of Yūsuf Šāhīn (Ṣ irā῾ fī al-wādī, “Fight in the valley” 1954, and Bāb al-ḥadīd, “Central station”, 1958), by Henri Barakāt (Du῾ · ā al-karawān, “The call of the curlew”, 1959, and Fī baytina raǧul, “There is a man in our house”, 1960) and by Tawfīq Ṣāliḥ (Darb al-mahābīl, “Alley of the madmen”, 1955), all with a strong social and political commitment, aimed at critical observation of contemporary Egyptian reality. Ṣāliḥ, in exile in Syria since 1969, where he made his most famous film “The Victims” in 1971, returns to his homeland in 1984. For Egypt 2001, please check naturegnosis.com.
In the 1960s the state finally developed a direction of film policy: while the Higher Institute of Cinema was in operation since 1959, in 1961 the socialist laws were promulgated which provided for the construction of a general body of cinema with the faculty to manage production, distribution and exercise. The public sector, which did not exclude private industry, began producing from 1963, making social realism a kind of national flag.
Alongside the old authors of the 1950s, who continue on the path already traced, sometimes going as far as a radical critique of Nasserism (al-qadiyya ṯamānya wa sittīn, “Process 68”, 1968, by Abū Sayf; al-Arḍ, “La terra “, 1968, by Šāhīn; al-Mutamarridūn,” The rebels “, 1968, by Ṣāliḥ), a new generation of directors emerges aimed at overcoming social realism towards a broader and more composite concept than realism itself: Ḥusayn Kamāl are part of it., the most important personality, author in 1965 of the film al-Mustaḥīl (“The Impossible”) and in 1967 of al-Būsṭaǧī (“The postman”); Sayyid ῾Īssa, who in 1967 signed “The rains have dried up”; H̱alīl Šawqī and above all Šaḏlī ῾Abd al-Salām, director of al-mūmyā ‘ (“The Mummy”, 1969), considered one of the undisputed masterpieces of Egyptian cinema.
The period of the so-called state cinema, which began in 1963, ended in 1971, when the heavily deficit sector of public funding disappeared, leaving production in the hands of private industry alone. Beyond the genre film, in which new directors like Muḥammad ῾Abd al-Azīz, Muḥammad Rāḍī, Nādir Ǧalāl, Ašraf Fahmī and ῾Alī ῾Abd al H̱āliq try their hand, the seventies-eighties still appear largely represented by filmmakers of the old guard, to whom we owe some of the most important works of the twenty years: al-Saqqā māt (“The water bearer is dead”, 1977) by Abu Sayf; al-Usfūr (“The sparrow”, 1973), Awda al-ibn al-Dal (“The return of the prodigal son”, 1978) and al-wada a yā Bonaparte / Adieu Bonaparte, by Yūsuf Šāhīn, the best-known Egyptian author in the West.
No substantial renewal, especially in language, is due to the new generation, almost all of whom have come from the Higher Institute of Cinema. Maḥmūd Šukrī and ῾Alī Badr H̱ān (who made al-Karnak in 1975) are authors of a political cinema, engaged in a violent anti-Nasserian criticism. Sayyid Marzūq made his most successful film in 1974, Ḥ ayātī al-ẖāṣṣa (“My private life”), about the story of an Egyptian woman who wants to divorce her husband, while Samīr Sayf with al-Gūl (“The monster”, 1978) provides a truthful and merciless portrait of Egypt contemporary. These names are added in the eighties those Ra’fat al-Mihi, who made his debut with Uyūn Lā Tanam ( “The eyes open”, 1981), a family drama, Lil-ḥub qiṣṣa aẖīra(“Broken Images”), a film about superstition; Hayri Bisara, author of al- Awam saba · In (“The houseboat n. 70”, 1981); by ῾Āṭif al-Ṭayyib, who with al-Sawwāq al-utūbūs (“The bus driver”, 1982) reflects on the generation of the Yom Kippur War in the face of the problems raised by the new economic course opened by al-Sādāt; Dawud Abd al-Sayyid, which achieves the first film, al-Sa Alik (“The tramp”) in 1985; by Muḥammad H̱ān, author in 1986 of “Portrait of a citizen” and in 1988 of “The wife of an important man”. A significant contribution to the scripts of Egyptian films was given by Naǧīb Maḥfūẓ.