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Cinematographer, or filmmaker, is an umbrella term that includes all those who work behind the camera. Directors, producers, executive producers, directors of photography, cameramen and costume designers fall under this category, as opposed to actors and actresses who work in front of the camera. In Egypt, two independent syndicates were founded in 1955, one for cinematographers and another for actors and actresses.

Cinema developed from still photography, and so it was natural for photographers to play a pioneering role in the development of movie making in Alexandria. As cinema was a new-born art still gathering momentum, and development had not yet led to specialization, these amateur filmmakers wrote, directed, filmed, produced, edited and sometimes even acted in their films.

The early giants of the cinema industry began modestly, in makeshift studios with very primitive equipment. Most were Alexandrians of foreign origins, or foreigners who came specifically to work in the cinema in Alexandria. Others – foreign or Egyptian – were lured from Cairo or the provinces to Alexandria by the glamour and glitter of the silver screen. Though they were lacking in technical sophistication, these studios, run by the hardworking and ingenious foreigners, were the incubators that produced most of Egypt’s filmmakers, who in one way or the other came under the influence of the founding fathers. The second generation was almost entirely trained in the studios of Umberto Dorés, Alvise Orfanelli, Togo Mizrahi, and Ibrahim Lama, whether those studios were still located in Alexandria or had moved to Cairo with the exodus of the thirties.

The photographers Aziz and Dorés are undoubtedly the fathers of the profession. David Cornel, of unknown origin, probably started work as photographer in their studio, and it was with him that Dorés established SITCIA (where Mohamed Karim, Egyptian director, made his debut as actor). Cornel was director of photography of the three films produced by SITCIA, and when it was shut down, he made seven other films. The Italian Bruno Salvi (born 1904) worked with Aziz and Dorés before working with the royal family in Cairo. In the photography studio of Aziz and Dorés, also, worked a ten-year-old Italian boy – Alvise Orfanelli. He remained with them when they started filming outdoor newsreels and school sports days, learning the technique of cinematic filming. When he started his own studio in Qaid Gohar Street, Manshieh, he worked with Leonard Laricci, who directed Madame Loretta in 1919. Of the well-known names who worked under Orfanelli are Fouad el Gazayerli, the Nasr brothers (Abdel Halim Nasr and Mahmoud Nasr), and Youssef Chahine. Mustafa Emam belongs to a later generation, those who were trained in the Cairo studios Galal and Shoubra. Orfanelli also encouraged Ohan Hagop, an Armenian born in Alexandria in 1913, to make his own cameras. Although he occasionally worked as photographer (his first film was El Shater Hassan, directed by Fouad el Gazayerly in 1948), his genius lay in making cameras and studio equipment. He helped create Studio Rami in Alexandria and made its principal camera, and created the full photography and studio equipment for Studio Al Ahram during World War II. Though of Italian origins, Orfanelli had an Egyptian passport, and thus was not interned along with other Italians in camps, but continued producing films and training filmmakers until he died in 1961.

The Lama brothers came to Alexandria in 1924, and moved to Cairo within a few years, where they established the first professional studio complete with advanced technology and equipment. Both the Alexandria and Cairo studios produced a number of photographers who were to leave their mark on the industry. Some made only one film (Meyer Alsendiski, A Kiss in the Desert, 1928), and others made no less than 62 (Victor Antoun, 1923-1979). Primavera, an Italian from Alexandria, is perhaps the best known of those who worked with the Lama Brothers. Others were Youssef Karama, Ibrahim Shbeib, George Saad, and Rashad Salama.

Very little is known about Tullio Chiarini’s beginnings. He started in Alexandria, worked on Laila (1927), and moved to Cairo. He was mostly a photographer who filmed 20 films, but he also tried his hand at directing. When World War II broke out, he left Egypt, but returned via Tobruk as a war photographer with the Axis armies. He was killed in 1943 and buried in the Italian cemetery in Alamein. Julio di Luca started with Chiarini, filming his first movie in 1932 (The Elite). Hassan el Helbawi also began his career with Chiarini, working on Laila. Others about whom little is known, despite their contribution to Egyptian cinema, are the two Hungarian brothers François (better known as Feri) and Alexander Farkaš, and the three Jewish brothers Maurice, Elie and Alexandre Aptekman, who formed the Aptekman Film Company. Yet another Italian from Alexandria whose origins are vague is Clelio, although he produced 70 films.

It was the foreigners who, in the beginning, had the knowledge and the equipment to get the cameras and the business rolling, but they passed the torch on to Egyptians and the other foreigners who developed the film industry. It was because of those innovative filmmakers that cinema began in Alexandria.



Mohamed Karim

Alvise Orfanelli

Mohamed Bayoumi

Ibrahim Lama

Mahmoud Khalil Rashed

Omar Gemei

Togo Mizrahi

El Sayed Hassan Gomaa

Behna Brothers

Shadi Abdel Salam

Bahiga Hafez

Chirine el Khadem

Youssef Chahine

Asma el Bakri

Tewfik Saleh

Dodi el Fayed