Shady Abdel Salaam and Al Mommia

Shadi Abdel Salam (15 March 1930, Alexandria – 8 October 1986), was an Egyptian director and screenwriter and Costume and set designer. He graduated from Victoria College, Alexandria, but also from faculty of fine arts in Cairo as an architect. He worked as a designer of decorations and costumes on some of the most famous historical Egyptian films. His best achievments can be seen in films such as: Wa Islamah, El-Nasser Salah El-Din, Almaz wa Abdu El Hamouly. He also worked as a historical consultant and supervisor of the decoration, costumes and accessories sections of the Polish film (Pharaoh), directed by Kavelorovitch. Two of his film creations are long drama entitled The Night of Counting the Years (Al-Momiaa), 1968 1969 and short drama entitled El-Falah El-Faseeh (The Eloquent Peasant). He was employed as Director of the Ministry of Culture Center for experimental films in 1970.

There are memorable events. Also there are memorable films. However, there are films – events which one cannot erase from memory. When I had the luck of being a president of the Jury of FIPRESCI at the International Film Festival in Cairo, in the winter of 2009, there was an organised screening for us in front of the pyramids. I thought it to be my ultimate movie experience. However, then started a movie named Al Moomya, and the English translation The Night of the Counting of the Years. Everyone at the Giza plateau were proud, because the film was restored by Martina Scorsese’s The World Cinema Foundation. From the first to the last cadre I couldn’t believe what I’m watching – fthe photography, the story, the directing, the acting, the archaic Arabic language…all of it was pšerfect. I have seen one of the best films in my life – without expecting it. Since then and to this day, I have waited the opportunity to watch this film on big screen. Shady Abdel Salaam (1930. – 1986.) is one of those cult figures of Egyptian cinematograpy, which cannot and must not be avoided, in any overview not just the Egyptian, but also world history of film. With his education and artistry, very soon he became an associate of relevant Egyptian and world directors. When Jospeh L. Mankiewiz started filming his Cleopatra, Salaam was hired as a production designer. But, very soon, because of some disagreements with the director, he quit the project. Next year, he involves himself in a film project, with a theme of Ancient Egypt – Pharaoh, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Here he was a production designer and a costume designer. This is where Salaam expressed his talent to the fullest. Since every now and then, he got the chance to direct sequences of the film, the idea of his own film soon became reality. Still, he had to work with Rossellini on his film. Human fight for survival was the title of the film, and Salaam yet again created excellent costumes and design – showing his rare talent. It was Rossellini who played a significant role in the process of getting his first film,Al Moomya. In 1969, Salaam finally made the movie which is relevant even today – especially after the revolution on January 27. Al Moomya is a film which talks about a historically confimed family of grave robbers form the 19th century, who, bit by bit, sell findings and by that destroys archeological sites. The problem appears when, after the death of the father, Wannis inherits the business, and immediately starts to question the correctness of destroying, primarily his own history. This film will remain a permanent reminder of an inner turmoil of modern Egyptians. To create a connection between a modern Egyptian and an ancient one, to create a link between pharaonic and Islamic Egypt, that was Salaam’s mission. But, it was destined that Al Moomya becomes the one and only feature length film of Shady Abdel Salaam. In 1970, Salaam makes a short film El Fallâh el fasîh (The Eloquent Peasant), made according to one of the most famous stories of Ancient Egypt. This is an all time story from Middle Egyptian Kingdom, which tells the story about a peasant who comes back from town, passes by a house of a local power – wielder, who, after the peasant’s donkey eats a spike of the power – wielder’s corn, he beats him and empounds his assets. That is why the peasant goes to the warden of the pharaoh’s court to complain, and he starts a series of nine speeches, every one of which is better than the last one. This literary top of literature of Ancient Egypt, like it opened, by the director’s hand of Shady Abdel Salaam, that necessary portal into the world of Ancient Egypt, Egypt so distant from the eyes of Hollywood (which was confirmed with the Golden Lion at the Film Festival in Venice). Salaam will continue to go down this road, working on documentary films about Ancient Egypt, developing his next feature length film in the process. The title supposed to be Ikhnâtoun (Akhenaten – A Great House Tragedy), while thematically, of course, it was situated in the so called period of Amarna (artistically, religiously and intelectually and possibly the most intriguing period of ancient Egyptian history). But, in spite of twelve years of preparations, Salaam dies at the age of 56, leaving behind the screenplay and unbelievable sketches for the movie. His sudden end, found Egyptian film industry unprepared. Although, the past few years people talked about how Salaam’s ideas will be used for a great spectacle starring Halle Berry, with his departure, as if a key to understanding one’s own past and identity disappeared; the key who was Shady Abdel Salaam. Just like everything else in Egypt – it is our duty to try and dig up this key. Let us, because of that, start at Avvantura.
Daniel Rafaelić, film historian