Egyptian director of cinematography Said Shemy celebrates his birthday in March, and fans of the seventh art celebrate with him more than 100 feature films and about 75 documentaries filmed or supervised by filming, until some almost nicknamed him "the Jabarti of Egyptian cinema", in reference to the Egyptian historian Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti (1753-1825).

In addition to this huge number of films, Shimi wrote 35 books that dealt with the arts of image, camera and memories of an entire era of the history of cinema and the Egyptian film community, and he was the first to take the camera out of the studio to the street, and achieved an unprecedented qualitative leap for Egyptian cinema.

He is also the first Arab to develop his camera and dive into the deep sea to shoot underwater scenes of his feature films, and the first Arab photographer to write books on cinema and cinematography at a professional level.

Student card at the Higher Institute of Cinema (Said Shimi Facebook page)

Said Shimi has made many scenes a visual pleasure, because of his great experience in distributing lighting and choosing angles, and he is the most striking cinematographer since the film The Mummy, through his feature films, which critics consider one of the best that has been produced in the entire history of Arabic-language cinema, including, for example, the films "The Innocent", "The Execution Battalion", "The Devil Preaches", "The Bus Driver", and "Shame".

In this special interview with Al Jazeera Net, Shimi talks about Egyptian cinema and some of the most prominent films he filmed, and reviews some of the situations that happened to him during his career.

  • Critics who have seen you filming the streets of Cairo in the films "Sunstroke", "The Innocent", "The Devil Preaches", and others, confirm that when they see the streets and places through your photos, it is as if they are seeing them for the first time, what is the reason for this?

All that happened was that I moved cinema from "Plateau" to the street and people's lives, and I remember my first film on TV entitled "Song for Love", starring Ezzat Al-Alayli and Laila Taher, working in "Plateau" and I felt like a prisoner of walls.

I remember that I completed the filming of more than half of the film "Antar Shail Seifeh", directed by Ahmed Al-Sabawi 1983, and I filmed most of its scenes in Italy, with the camera on my shoulder, we did not use the camera holder once, in order to reduce costs, and so that the producer does not bear the exorbitant Italian Actors Guild fees.

Documentary cinema taught me to work outside the studio with simple possibilities, and when my old friend Mohammed Khan returned to Egypt from London, and we worked together my first film "Sunstroke", he left a state of amazement among the audience and filmmakers in particular, and the question was, how were you able to implement all these scenes in the streets, downtown Cairo and traffic, and from over bridges and from inside lanes, corridors and alleys?

Samir Sabry and Nadia Lotfy are adjusting the camera waiting for filming to start (Director of Photography Said Shimi Facebook page)

As a result, Egyptian cinema was shocked by the presence of a photographer and a director who portrayed differently, and since then it has been associated with a number of young directors who led the film movement after that, such as Atef El-Tayeb, Nader Galal and Ashraf Fahmy, the generation that liberated the image from studio captivity to real places.

With a camera I carried on my shoulders, I was moving through all the streets, lanes and alleys of Cairo, and in this way I was able to transfer the entire photography from the studios to the realism of the image.

  • Your additions as a photographer influenced the themes of the movies. How true is this opinion?

Indeed, the shift was not only in the technique of film and photography, but it was an important shift in the nature of the subjects themselves, so the topics differed, for example when I worked with Atef Al-Tayeb in the film "Love on the Pyramid Hill", his vision was that the film will not be shot in the studio, but in a very ordinary and simple apartment in the Shubra area, and he is sure that there is a photographer who can implement his vision exactly as he wants.

He called the new form of cinema "the stage of new realism in Arab cinema", and do not forget the day we were preparing to shoot the film "Satan preaches", the story of Naguib Mahfouz and starring Farid Shawky and Nour Sharif and Adel Adham and Tawfiq Al-Daqn, where I suggested filming in the area of aesthetic and Husseiniya and lanes written by Naguib Mahfouz, accused me director Ashraf Fahmy crazy, but he agreed the next day, and filming in natural places and simulating some of these places came out the film as a masterpiece, and paintings in the open air.

Said Shimi and Hussein Fahmy from the memories of the famous director of photography (Said Shimi Facebook page)

You added a new camera that helped you shoot underwater, are you an engineer or a photographer?

The whole topic is that I am a lover of my work, and what I have done is create an insulator "Houseing" or a room that saves the camera from any water leakage, and the cameras equipped for underwater photography in the eighties were very expensive beyond my financial capacity, and I went to a studio technician named "Mohan" whose father is a German engineer, who founded the famous "Al-Ahram Studio" in 1944 with all its capabilities and equipment of lighting, cameras, etc., and "Mohan" was able to manufacture the insulation and the experiment succeeded, and I filmed a number of underwater films with this camera developed in Egypt.

The late director Muhammad Khan is a lifetime friend of yours, and when he returned to Egypt, you collaborated on only 6 films, while you shot about 20 films for director Ali Abdel Khaleq. Why?

In fact, my relationship with Muhammad Khan was above all friendships, he is a childhood companion, his father is a Pakistani who came to Egypt at the beginning of World War I and obtained Egyptian citizenship, and our two families have an old friendship, I live in Ataba and he lives in Sharif's land in Cairo, and our interests were the same and our love was the same.

His father was a tea merchant and the head of the Pakistani community in Egypt, when the revolution monopolized the state tea trade, so his family emigrated to London, and our relationship with the letters was not interrupted, and he was my eye on everything new in cinema in Britain and Europe, and I was writing to him about cinema in Egypt, and I kept all his speeches until he returned to Egypt in 1977 after 18 years and worked with him from his first films.

She started working with Ali Abdel Khaleq on the 1976 film "Bayt Bela Hanan", and he was the most director I worked with until the number of films I shot for him reached 19.

I worked with Muhammad Khan only 6 films, then we decided not to work together, and this is because I contracted with Raafat Al-Mihi to shoot his first film "Eyes Do Not Sleep", then Muhammad Khan came to me the next day and told me that he had contracted to direct the film "Revenge", and for the relationship between us I apologized to the director Raafat Al-Mihi, and at this time a strong rumor spread that Saeed Shimi will leave the work with any director for Muhammad Khan, and for this we took this decision to preserve our interests in Future.

Ali Abdelkhaleq (right) and Said Shimi (Said Shimi Facebook page)

Your experiences working with director Atef El Tayeb were also special, was the secret to your friendship and belonging to one generation?

My friendship with director Atef El-Tayeb began late, and although he was my colleague at the Institute, he was late in work a lot, and directed the first film "Fatal Jealousy" starring the artist Nour Al-Sharif, and before he started working he consulted me on the film, and I had become a famous director of photography.

I did not like the story, and I told him the film has been produced a million times in Egyptian and international cinema, it is a quote from Shakespeare's play Othello, and there is no dramatic crisis in the fact that the hero is black.

Atef told me one word after which I agreed to shoot the film, he said, "I want to tell people that I am a director," and after 3 days of work I discovered that I was working with a great director.

Backstage of "Salam Ya Sahbi" with Adel Imam (left), Saeed Saleh and Sawsan Badr (Saeed Shimi Facebook page)

I worked with Atef in most of his films that left an imprint in Arab cinema, and in the film "The Execution Battalion" we knew that he had a heart disease, and he worked 18 hours a day as if he was racing against time to produce the largest number of films before the end, and in the film "The Execution Battalion" I told him explicitly, we were finishing filming at dawn, and he asks the team to be ready to work at eight in the morning, I told him impossible, if you want to die, you are free, but I do not want to I'm dying."

She presented several experiences with the late actor Ahmed Zaki. What sets it apart?

Ahmed Zaki almost caused my death more than once. In the movie "Bird on the Road", he was not yet famous, and outside of acting he was an obedient human being who obeyed all orders until he started acting, forgetting everything, and turning into a completely different character.

Omar's journey between Tayeb and Shimi (Director of Photography Said Shimi Facebook page)

He was driving with the camera in my hand, and although he was warned to stop quietly, he suddenly stood up unexpectedly from us, and I only met him while he was visiting me in the hospital.

I discovered then that Ahmed Zaki is completely separated from our world, and we were acting some scenes of the film "Nasser 56" in a studio on television, and the Minister of Information Safwat Al-Sharif came down to greet the film's team, and some whispered "Mr. Minister is coming", what was from Ahmed Zaki, but suddenly he got excited and at the top of his voice, "Minister of Meen? (Who is this minister?) I am Gamal Abdel Nasser, he comes to me!! (He has to come to me)."