Against realism, against formalism.
Birth of an artist is a great moment, one which not happens every day. Film The Mummy was exactly such event: birth of an artist, Shadi Abdel Salam.
Today the film is screened in Cairo Cinema Club, and although I think, that a critic should not analyze or write a review of a picture, which has not yet been showed in public cinemas, I believe reader has the right to know a little about director of The Mummy a.k.a. The Night of Counting the Years, knowing that this film is the first to be screened in Cairo Cinema Club since its foundation.
Shadi Abdel Salam was born in Alexandria in 1930 and he grew up in cultured, middle-class family. He began his education in Victoria College, where Youssef Chahine and Tewfik Saleh had also studied. Then Shadi moved to Faculty of Arts and graduated from it in 1949. After that he continued his education in Cairo in Faculty of Arts, and graduated from department of architecture in 1955 receiving a degree of excellence.
Before Shadi Abdel Salam started to film his first picture The Mummy, he lived almost 10 years, torn between drawing and cinema. He was drawing thinking at the same tame a lot about cinema. He said: Paper was not enough for me. I wanted my drawings to move and picture can move only in the cinema. So that he started to work for the cinema. Firstly as an assistant of Salah Abu Seif, Barakat and Helmy Halim, then as a décor and costume designer to more than ten feature and ten short films. Probably the most important films of that time, as he admit by himself were: Egyptian movie Oh Islam!, American Cleopatra and Polish Pharaoh.
What is the story about Rossellini in Cairo and in The Mummy?
Really, it became a story, but in fact it is very simple. Rossellini came to Cairo to make some parts of the TV series about pharaonic culture and in the middle of that he had to stop due to 1967 aggression. In March 1968 filming The Mummy began and I promised Rossellini to complete his part, so I did.
What is the relation between Rossellini and The Mummy?
Rossellini knew me from my work in Pharaoh. When he came to Cairo he read screenplay of The Mummy and he liked it. The film was produced under his spiritual patronage. I will never forget his help, especially in Rome.
When have you finished filming The Mummy?
In July 1968.
So in 20 weeks?
Even in 14! Between March and July we had 6-weeks-long stoppage.
You are accused of extravagance because of making whole postproduction process in Rome.
This accusation is false and tendentious and I will challenge anyone saying that. Firstly, because 99% of our films in color were, and still are post produced abroad. Secondly, because budget of the film did not exceed budgets of majority films of General Egyptian Cinema Organization. Those who says so want to destroy the film before its even ready, so that it will not threaten old Egyptian movies. Yes, it is true that The Mummy is not a new Egyptian movie in accord to the imaginations of some, but it is a new Egyptian film as I imagine it.
The full costs of The Mummy, including wages of all who worked in its production did not exceed 10 thousands Egyptian Pounds, which equals wage of Nadia Lutfi from two films. Speaking about her, I would like to mention, that she played in my movie for free, she was a special guest there.
What prompts you to make films?
I want to express myself and I want to express Egypt. I am trying to create Egyptian cinema by returning to original pharaonic fine arts. By the story of Ahmad Kamal’s discovering in 1881, and it was one of the most dangerous archeological discoveries ever made, I want to show personality of modern Egyptian who recovers his historic origins and raises. That is why I written in the last scene these words taken from the famous Book of the Dead.
Stand up, you will not perish.
I have called you by your name
And you raised.
It is obvious that you are standing on the legacy of plastic arts. Can you reconcile the stability of the drawing and movement of the cinematic snapshot?
I think so, since as I told you before I felt that there is something missing in drawing, and I found it in cinema.
Which stage of production is the most important for you? Writing of screenplay, filming or montage?
I do not write a screenplay, I write a movie as it is screened in the cinema and that is why I consider this stage as the most important.
So would you confirm the theory which states that cinema has only one artists who, through the film, expresses his vision – the cinema artist?
Yes, because the time of directors passed as Jean Renoir said once.
Shadi Abdel Salam, are you interested in formalism?
No, I am not a formalist. I think that this opinion is based on approaching to my film as to realistic one, while I am against realism. And realism does not have to be synonymous to formalism. Everything in this word has its meaning. If someone likes form of a movie that does not mean, that this movie does not have a sense.
Gomhuria Magazine, Egypt