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The Early Years of Documentaries
and Short Films in Egypt


Arrival of the coloumns of Abou el Abbas el Morsi from Italy. Handwritten script by Dawlat Bayoumi, 2006.


Documentary films were the first genre of films or motion pictures projected on cinema screens in Egypt, as was the case in the pioneering days of the cinema industry in France. These were single shots, mainly of important social or historical events. The term documentary covers a broad category of factual or non-fictional cinematic expression, including newsreels and instructional films. The gradual increase in the production of long feature films in the late 1920s resulted in a relative decrease in the production of the short documentary films, putting them in ‘second place’ of interest to audiences and producers alike.

The films of the Lumière Brothers were shown in Egypt soon after their debut in Europe in 1896 at the prestigious cafés of Alexandria and Cairo. In 1897, viewers in Cairo and Alexandria watched a genre of actuality film. Technological limitations resulted in the production of very short films most of which were only a few minutes long, and very little storytelling took place before the turn of the century.

After the screening of their short films in Cairo and Alexandria, the Lumière Brothers dispatched camera men to Egypt, to film alluring and exotic scenery and to capture major historic events. These short films were first shown in France, before they toured Europe and eventually got projected in Egypt. The documentary film Place des Consuls, à Alexandrie (1897) is the first film to be shot in Egypt by Promio ( a Frenchman of Italian origins), delegated by the Lumière Brothers to film some buildings and scenes from the city.

The first local productions were launched by the European communities in Alexandria. Italian companies set up a professional film industry production in Egypt during World War I, such as SITCIA. These attempts were later followed by those of Egyptian businessmen who wished to invest money in cinema production.

The screening of the Lumière Brothers film in Toussoun Bourse (first projection of motion picture in Egypt)

Note: The Bourse had many halls used for different purposes, among them was Café Zawani.

The screening of the documentary film Place des Consuls, à Alexandrie shot by Mr. Promio on behalf of the Lumière Brothers. This is the first screening of “Pellicules” (celluloid film) filmed in Egypt.

The pied-noir Felix Mesguich, an immigrant Frenchman, shoots a documentary on the famous Egyptian historical sites and monuments on Lumière's behalf.

Aziz Bandarli and Umberto Dorés , the pioneering Italian photographers resident in Alexandria produce the first Egyptian documentary The Visit of the Khedive Abbas Helmi to the Scientific Institute of the Sidi AboulAbbas Mosque.

The Pathé Screening Hall, in Alexandria, shows the Pathé Journal, the first foreign newsreel to be shown in Egypt.

The filming and screening of The Parade of the Mahmal.
Note: The festivities held by Egyptians to celebrate the donation of the Kiswa of the Ka’aba to Mecca.

Other: In 1912, Arabic translation (subtitles), to accompany the dialogues of foreign films on transparent slides reflected on a small screen placed near the big one, was introduced by Leopoldo Fiorello an Italian resident in Egypt.

The filming of The War of Flowers at Gezira and The Solar Reactor in Maadi, by Aziz and Dorés  Studio.

Aziz and Dorés  produce a documentary on The Reception of the National Hero: Aziz Bey El Masri, Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Army.

Aziz and Dorés  produce a documentary on The Visit to the Playground of the Veterinary Hospital of Moharrem Bey.

Dorés  and Cornel direct a short film entitled Towards the Abyss (Nahwa el hâwiyah), a SITCIA production featuring Nina Costantinou and Miss Dorés.

The Egyptian Society of Alexandria, under the auspices of Prince Omar Toussoun, produces the short film The Mask Wearer.

SITCIA produces two featurettes (medium length films: 30 minutes and 45 minutes long):
The Honour of the Bedouin (Charaf el badawî)starring Mohamed Karim, the first Egyptian actor. The film is shown at the chantecler Cinema in Alexandria.
The Deadly Flowers (el Azhâr el momîtah), starring Mohamed Karim.
Other: This film was never projected and is considered the first Egyptian film to be banned from viewing for religious reasons.

The production and screening of the film Madame Loretta, an adaptation of a play produced and acted by Fawzi el Gazayerly and his theatre troupe, filmed by Alvise Orfanelli and directed by Leonard Ricci, featuring the Egyptian theatre actor Fawzi el Gazayerly and his theatrical troupe.

The production of the following documentary films:
The Race of the Fishing Club, May 8th,, at Sporting, in Alexandria
The Race of the Fishing Club, June 26th,, at Sporting, in Alexandria

The screening of the silent featurette (32 minutes long) El Khala el Amrikaniya (The American Aunt) directed by Bonvelli and adapted from an English play entitled Aunt Charlie by the author and actor Amin Sedki.

The screening of the following documentary films in Alexandria and Cairo:
The Return of Saad Zaghloul documenting the arrival of this national leader to Alexandria after his exile in Malta.
Lord Allenby inaugurating the ceremony of the British community on occasion of their offering an ‘Obelisk’ to the French community in Alexandria.
The Flower Exhibition at San Stefano
The Sugar Cane

The screening of the comic Egyptian-French film Aziz Bey the Anarchist (‘Azîz beh el fawdawî)filmed in France.

The screening of the short documentary films:
The Parade of the Mahmal.
Note: The festivities held by Egyptians to celebrate the donation of the Kiswa of the Ka’aba, in Mecca, to the people of Hijjaz.

The screening of the short comic ‘one act’ film:
The Ring of Solomon (Khâtim Solimân filmed by Alvise Orfanelli, directed by Leonard Ricci and starring Fawzi Mounib and his troupe.

The production of the first long (80 minutes) Egyptian documentary:
In the Land of Tutankhamon, (Fî bilâd Toutankhamon)the first entirely Egyptian production documenting the discovery of the tomb by Lord Carnavon. Filmed by Mohamed Bayoumi, directed by Victor Rossito, starring Aristidie Hag Andrea, John Marbert, Yolande Wiriss and the Egyptian actor Fawzi Mounib.
Note: The film was screened at the Matussian ‘Cinemagique’ hall.

The screening of actualites that document official events:

The Grand Sports Tournament at the Lycee Francais in Alexandria
‘The Arrival of the Former Sultan of Turkey to Alexandria
The Parade of the Mahmal
The Return of the Mahmal Without Going Mecca.
Note:Disagreement between the Egyptian government and the king of Hijjaz
The Arrival of Saad Zaghloul Pasha to Alexandria
The Visit of King Fouad to the Camp of Kom el Dikk

The screening of the featurettes:

The Marriage of Aziz Bey by Force, a comic Egyptian-French film.

Prohibited to Spit, an educational film produced by Victor Rossito.

Barsoum Looks for Employment (Barsoum yabhas ‘an wazifa)(18 minutes), a film directed by Mohamed Bayoumi, starring Bechara Wakim, Abdel Hamid Zaki, Mohamed Shafiq and Mohamed Youssef (Bayoumi’s son).

Mohamed Bayoumi, produces the ‘Amon Newsreel’ of cinematographic actualities. The first issue filmed:
The Return of the Leader Saad Zaghloul Pasha (5 minutes) is the first newsreel filmed by an Egyptian film maker, to celebrate the return of Saad Zaghloul from his exile in the islands of Seychelles.

The screening of the comic featurettes:
The Cinema in Egypt, directed by René Tabouret and produced by Count Zogheb and Baroness de Menasce.

The Chief Contractor (el Bâchmeqâwel), filmed and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi, produced, written and acted by Amin Attallah and his troupe: Adele Levy, Bechara Wakim and Ali Tabangate.

The screening of the documentary films:

The Inauguration of the Tomb of Tutankhamun produced by Prosperi
The Inauguration of the Egyptian Parliament filmed by Aziz and Dorés  and produced by Cinema American cosmograph of Alexandria
The Anniversary of King Fouad produced by Prosperi
His Majesty the King at the Mosque of Amr, produced by Prosperi
The Voyage of King Fouad from Cairo to Alexandria, produced by Prosperi
The Journey of the Queen from Belgium to Cairo, produced by Prosperi
Prince Leopold Climbing The Cheops Pyramid, produced by Prosperi.
The Journey of the Mahmal from Egypt to Mecca
The Inauguration of Tutankhamun Tomb (8 minutes) filmed and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

The Amon Newsreel filmed and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi screens the following national events:
Saad Zaghloul looking out of the balcony of Beit el ûmma ("The House of the People") to greet the people who came to congratulate him on assembling his Cabinet
The Sports Festival Organised by the Royal Guards on the Occasion of Coronation of the King in Abdine
Abdel Rahman Fahmi Bey Leaving Prison
Ahmed el Bassil Pasha Greeting one of the Deputies of Fayoum
The Funeral of Saad Zaghloul
A Scene from the Life of Ali Fahmi Bey, Killed by his Wife
The Return of the Mahmal Without Having Gone to Mecca (2 minutes long - filmed in 1923)
The Funeral of Lee Stack Pasha, High Ranking Official in the Egyptian Army and Governor of Sudan. (5 minutes long) 

The filming and screening of national events:
The Visit of the Members of the Geographic Colloquium to Qanater, filmed by Mohamed Bayoumi
Celebrating the Founding of Fouad I Hospital, directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

The Prosperi Society produces and screens:
The Sports Houses in the Police Schools in Abbassiya
The Gymnastics Tournament between the Primary Governmental Schools in Cairo
A Great Arab Fantasy – Organised by the Animal Care Society
The Parade of the Mahmal
The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions of the Newsreel of the Orient

The filming and screening of the short documentaries:
The Founding of Saint Marc College in Chatby
The Arrival of Pope Mathew II to Alexandria filmed and directed by Aziz and Dorés
The Grand Sports Festival organised by the Frères College – (Saint-Catherine) in Alexandria

The filming and screening of the short films and documentaries:
Abdel Meneim Mokhtar Effendi, the Sportsman, produced by Prosperi
The Arrival of King Fouad I to Alexandria
The Parade of his Majesty King Fouad in Cairo and in Alexandria

The filming and screening of the short documentary:
The Celebration of the Coronation of King Fouad I, (6 minutes) directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

The filming and screening of the short documentary:
The Moving of the Columns of El Morsi Aboul Abbas Mosque (6 minutes) directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

The filming and screening of the short documentaries:
A Night in a Lifetime (Layla fi el omr), produced by the dancer Amina Mohamed and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

The Inauguration of Upper Egypt Club in Alexandria - Under the Auspices of Hussein Sabri Pasha, The Governor of Alexandria’ (12 minutes), filmed and directed by Mohamed Bayoumi

Sound is introduced to Cinematographic Actualities

Studio Misr produces The Egyptian Illustrated Actualities to cover the news of the British Forces in World War II.