Monday,12 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)
Monday,12 November, 2018
Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The quiet revolutionary

Obituary: Mohamed Kamel Al-Kaliouby (1943-2017)

Kamel Al-Kaliouby
Kamel Al-Kaliouby

This week the Egyptian film industry lost one of its most respected figures, Mohamed Kamel Al-Kaliouby. Though not very prolific in the various cinematic genres at which he tried his hand, Al-Kaliouby nevertheless left his mark as a major player. His interest in contemporary Egyptian history manifested itself in his probing documentaries, which uncovered hitherto unknown facts related to an eclectic array of subjects.


Al-Kaliouby studied to be an architect but pursued further studies at the Higher Institute For Cinema, where he graduated in 1972. In 1986, he studied at the Moscow Film Institute. In 1990 he produced his documentary Mohamed Bayoumi and Facts from the Lost Era. The film had been preceded by a book, Mohamed Bayoumi, the First Pioneer of Egyptian Cinema. Both works were arduously researched, and they included new evidence to provide groundbreaking documentation of the birth of Egypt’s film industry.


The documentary narrates the story of Egypt’s versatile cinema pioneer, Mohamed Bayoumi, who until Al-Kaliouby shed light on his achievement had remained an unsung hero. Bayoumy, a military officer, was born in Alexandria. He was an actor, script writer and film-producer all in one. The film received the Silver Sword Award at the Damascus Film Festival.


Al-Kaliouby’s last documentary My Name is Sayed Khamis gives a face and an identity to the young labour leader Khamis who, along with his colleague Abdel-Rahman Al-Baqry, were sentenced to death in a political trial and hanged 1952.


Like all his documented works it was based on typically painstaking research.  Through newspaper clippings and interviews with eyewitnesses and surviving family members, Al-Kaliouby put forth his perspective on the case, which was that the “Khamis and Baqry Case” as it came to be known, was in essence a highly politicised one utilized to crack down on Egypt’s labour movement.
Al-Kaliouby’s feature films include Why is the River Smiling at Me, Three on the Road, Stolen Dreams and Adam’s Autumn. All testify to a master storyteller whose tongue-in-cheek humour is combined with an out-of-the-box perspective on the events of daily life.


Al-Kaliouby was not an ostentatious person. His temporary recession into silence in the face of the garrulousness of others was only that: a transient one. But when confronted with an audience that was ready to listen,  he could captivate. He had an inborn talent for telling stories from real life as well as from history, weaving disparate strands into a fascinating narrative.
He was a quiet revolutionary, and amongst the issues that he fought for in his research and writing was that of the independence of filmmaking and of art in the face of state control and censorship.


During his career, he headed the National Centre for Cinema and was the director of the screenwriting department at the Higher Institute For Cinema. He founded the Noun Foundation for Culture and Arts, whose chairman he remained until his death.


He maintained close links with his colleagues and with the generations of young filmmakers and critics who studied with him.
Al-Kaliouby is survived by his Russian wife Olga and their son Ramy.

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