Ahmed Hossam has had an incredibly productive year since we last spoke: having films screened at the Red Sea Film Festival to new national cultural restoration agreements, Hossam has been using Phoenix every step of the way as he believes it is ‘a game changer for this industry’.
EGYPTS CINEMATIC HERITAGE GETS RECOGNISED
The beginning of 2024 brought the exciting announcement that the Egyptian Media Production City has agreed with the Holding Company for Investments in Cultural and Cinematic Fields, a subsidiary of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, to restore 40 of Egypts cinematic classics.
Taking place at the Heritage Revival Center for Audiovisual Heritage, it marks the beginning of the restoration of over 300 films owned by the Ministry of Culture and the next step in protecting Egypt’s cinematic heritage. Hossam is proudly part of the team that’ll be executing this thrilling task, unearthing historical treasures and returning them to their artistic glory. For this, he is using the ‘magic’ of Phoenix to produce the best quality images in the industry.
This isn’t the only exciting announcement: at the end of 2023, Hossam was recognised by the Cinema Professions Syndicate in Egypt, but humbly shared this honour with the ‘collective efforts and contributions of so many in the cinematic community’. This award is hopefully one of many to come as Hossam is ‘eager to continue contributing to the vibrant tapestry of the film industry’.
Hossam explains that for many years he wasn’t at the centre of this industry, but with Phoenix he was able to pave his way and said that ‘Filmworkz made it easy for me to be successful’.
‘When it comes to digital restoration, Phoenix is undoubtedly the master in the field. Phoenix faces no competition when it comes to related software for digital restoration’.
PREMIERING RESTORATIONS AT THE RED SEA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Over the last year, Hossam has also restored Victory of Youth/Intisar al-chabab (انتصار الشباب) (1941, directed by Ahmed Badrakhan, and is a story revolving around poor siblings singing to get by, and the class dynamics of their ill fated love affairs. Like the movie, the leading pair were sibling actor-singers Asmahan and her brother Farid al-Atrash, and it was their first film together in their career. Al-Atrash composed all the songs in the film and was the first of many lyrical theatre pieces in Egyptian cinema, and this operetta-within-a-film included poetry by Ahmed Rami quoted from The Barber of Seville and music from the maqam of Ajam. Perhaps the most notable anecdote, when the film was first shown in Southern Syria, the Druze tribal men shot their rifles at the screen upon seeing Asmahan (who came from a noble Druze family) in make-up and Western-style clothing!
Considering the film’s age, the original positive were very damaged, and required months to bring it back to a high quality visual experience. Hossam had to battle through ‘weathered positive print, wax pencil marks, numerous scratches, severe shrinkage, and tearing’. In order to restore the original frames without compromising its integrity, he used DVO Dry Clean and Dust, alongside Flicker and Scratch Target.
‘The software not only saves a considerable amount of time, but has really, truly transformed the way I approach projects. It’s made my career journey much smoother and far more effective.’
Restoring the image wasn’t the only challenge on this project – there were missing sections of the accompanying soundtrack which were replaced and integrated with the recordings from a digital copy in efforts to stitch together a cohesive and unified rendition of the film.
These efforts don’t go amiss: Victory of Youth was premiered at the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2023, alongside Afrit Merati (1986), another project of Hossam’s. Although Hossam was unable to travel to see his work on the big screen, colleagues were sharing videos of both movies.
Afrit Merati/My Wife’s Goblin (عفريتت مراتي) is an Egyptian romantic-comedy, directed by Fatin Abdulwahhab; a wife has a condition where she believes she is a character in any film she has just watched and doctors have warned the husband to play along lest she is overwhelmed and dies, leading to many humorous interactions. Scanned from its negative, the film was still in relatively good condition, but Hossam explains regardless that black and white movies are harder to work on than coloured movies because you can’t access the infrared ( IR ).
REVIVING LOVE STORIES
Other impressive films to add to his roster is Rasha Garea/Dare to Give (رشة جريئة) (2001), an Egyptian comedy starring Ashraf Abdel Baqi and Yasmine Abdel Aziz, written by Maher Awad and directed by Saeed Hamed. The film’s protagonist Salmawi is in a pursuit of fame in the world of theatre and film, and is trying to master the role of Othello. He and his co-star Mima are derailed by the difficult admission exams and are resorted to do what it takes, even murder. The film skillfully weaves allusions to some of Egypt’s most symbolic cinema, layering this rich, intertextual cultural history in a highly self-aware parody. Some of the references to note are:
- When they enter a film studio as extras, the characters are classed as either British soldiers or nationalists according to skull size by the assistant director Ali Idriss (who plays himself)
- Salmaawy and Mima act as demonstrators during the 1919 Revolution, a pastiche of a classic scene in Hassan El-Imam’s version of Nagueeb Mahfouz’s Bein al-Kasrein/Palace walk (1964)”.
- When Salmaawy loses the paper with protest details he was reading from and carried through the streets, Salmaawy shouts proclamations against poverty and hunger and sings the famous line from Folk superstar Sha’baan Abdul Reheem about quitting smoking and working out.
- When Salmaawy and Mima are forced to run from the law, Hassan al-Asmar singing a modern ‘Mawwaal’ (ballad) references Hossaameddeen Moustafa’s classic film Adham al-Sharkaawy (1964) where Abdul Haleem Haafez sings to the police chasing him
- When they are released after an arrest, they spend their reward at a supermarket, an echo of a scene from Anwar Wagdy’s Yasmine (1950).
- When Salmaawy and Mima mistakenly enter the villa of actor Samy al-‘Adl, Sha’baan Abdul Reheem parodies the over-the-top scene of Wagdy’s classic ‘Ghazal al-banaat’ by rehearsing a version of ‘Aashek al-rowh’.
Hossam’s current project includes Al-raghba/Desire (الرغبة) (2002), a film loosely based on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Aly Badrakhan. Like the play, it follows the conflict of two sisters when one moves in with the other and her partner. The husband sniffs out the unscrupulous behaviours of the visiting sister, and through his attempts to ruin her, he eventually leads to her psychological collapse.
This 35mm film was scanned in infrared, so the IR details are embedded in the DPX files. With Phoenix, it was incredibly easy to read it for DVOs like Dirt Map – ‘this is a magical tool. It’s a game changer, alongside Dry Clean and Scratch Target’.