ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) – In a small apartment-turned-museum in the northern city of Alexandria, 72-year-old Makram Salama’s cluttered collection of negatives, posters and projectors traces the history of Egyptian cinema through its 20th century heyday.
The collection started with photos and posters from his hometown in southern Egypt where he worked in a sugar cane factory, and grew to include thousands of items picked up from production companies and others who abandoned them as they switched to digital film.
Items include 50 vintage cinema projectors and a rare poster from the 1932 film “The Egyptian Author” which Salama says is thought to be one of the country’s oldest.
The Egyptian film industry flourished midway through the last century, when it was one of the world’s largest and nurtured Omar Sharif, who went on to become a global star. It later faded, amid domestic political upheavals and competition from elsewhere in the Arab region.
Salama said he was worried about the fate of his treasured possessions. His two sons live abroad and have little interest in taking on a collection in which he invested his earnings after moving to Suez and establishing a marine services firm.
Some items he expects to sell. Others he will keep aside, because he considers them of national importance.
“I have negatives for (late president Gamal) Abdel Nasser. Would I sell Abdel Nasser’s negatives?” he asked.
Meanwhile many of the cinemas that used to dot the country, from provincial towns to oil firm compounds in the desert, have disappeared.
“All of this is now gone. I’m sad, really sad. Cinema used to be the second most important product for the country after cotton,” Salama said.
As of 2018, Egypt had 78 cinemas, mostly in greater Cairo and Alexandria, down from 110 in 2010, according to the annual cultural survey released by the country’s official statistics agency, CAPMAS.
Ten regions, mostly in southern Egypt, have no cinemas at all, the survey said.
(Reporting by Amr Dalsh; Writing by Mai Shams Eldin; Editing by Mike Collett-White)