- Life Style
ISMAILIA – The 15th Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films opened on Saturday with “The Road to God” trilogy, a recently discovered film by the iconic Shadi Abdel Salam (1930-1986).
Abdel Salam is best known for his first and only feature length film, “The Mummy” produced in 1969. “The Mummy” was recently restored by the Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation and screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
But the trilogy can be regarded as the filmmaker’s life project. It was recently found by his close assistant and protégé Magdi Abdel Rahman at the archives of the National Cinema Center. Abdel Rahman completed the last part of the trilogy and brought it forward to the screen for the first time at the Ismailia festival.
"The Road to God" was part of a project Abdel Salam embarked on after he was appointed as head of the Department of Experimental Film, which constituted an under-section of the Public Documentary Film Center, in 1968. He sought to create a visual archive of Egypt based on the famous 20-volume “Description de l'Égypte” (Description of Egypt). The project, however, came to a halt due to budget constraints. Its estimated budget at the time was LE10 million. But the filmed material remained in the state’s archives.
“The Road to God” is composed of three main parts: “The Fortress” filmed at the Edfu temple, “Al-Dandaraweyah,” filmed at the Southern Dandarah town, and a third part about Pharaoh Akhenaten’s call for monotheism, titled “The tragedy of the Great House.”
Abdel Salam wrote and directed the first two parts for the screen, whereas the third one was directed by Abdel Rahman. Still, it is “The tragedy of the Great House” that is believed to be Abdel Salam’s life project as it follows the mystical idea of finding a path to God, one that was strongly reflected in most of his films from “The Mummy” to short films like “The Eloquent Peasant” which was based on a long Pharaonic text and produced in 1970. Furthermore, Abdel Rahman used many of the storyboards and sketches developed by Abdel Salam in making "The Tragedy of the Great House."
Abdel Salam believed in the greatness of the Egyptian people. He was fascinated by the ancient Egyptian civilization and believed the country to be the “cradle of civilization.” Among the country’s main contributions was its contribution to monotheism.
In “The Fortress,” the filmmaker depicts how religion was monopolized by the priests, who enjoyed political stature in the ancient Egyptian state. Then he takes us to the Edfu temple which he presents as a stronghold of the mysteries of religion and the cradle of ideas which formed monotheistic religions. The Edfu Temple was built for Horus, the son of Isis. Abdel Salam focuses on the wall paintings that highlight the relation between Isis and Horus, and makes some subtle hints at the relation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ based on similarities between the two stories.
There is no audio narrative throughout the trilogy. Instead, Abdel Salam masterfully tells the story through editing and the relationships created between the various shots. He shows how Ancient Egyptians were able to depict a history through their inscriptions and wall paintings in temples, particularly in a scene where he shows the birds flying above the pillars of the temple as if they have come to life out of the paintings on the walls.
In the first two parts of "The Road to God," Abdel-Salam uses a panoramic filming technique, moving the camera from left to right around an imaginary vertical axis. This movement of the camera creates a rhythm that captures viewers. The soundtrack also adds to the experience; it is based on sounds from nature that evoke feelings of greatness. Music is rarely used except for a few Sufi songs and recitals in “Al-Dandaraweyah," used to refer to the religious rituals of ancient Egyptians.
In “Al-Dandaraweyah,” Abdel Salam steps out of “The Fortress” as religion comes out in the open, to the people, and creates visual relationships between the Dandarah Temple built for Goddess Hathor and the Sufi celebrations that reflect how strongly Egyptians value religion. He devotes scenes to the Sufi celebrations of Dandareh which seem in terms of their rituals similar to those of the ancient Egyptians painted on the temple walls. According to Abdel Salam, Egyptians have found their way to God from the dawn of history, and bequeathed that knowledge to the world. This culminated in Akhenaten's call for monotheism, the focus of the final part of the trilogy.
"The Tragedy of the Great House" tells the story of the house of Amenhotep III, father of Amenhotep IV, known as Akhenaton. It may seem different from the first two parts of “The Road to God.” But its significance lies in that it follows through the mystic line of thought that Abdel Salam developed in the earlier works: developing a relationship with God. Although Abdel Salam never got to finish the project himself, "The Road to God" trilogy seems complete.