Following in Freeman’s footsteps in Egypt

Friday 27/11/2015
Actor Morgan Freeman, (C), is surrounded by his film crew as he visits the Giza Pyramids, on Ocober 23rd.

Cairo - Egyptians’ eyes were on American actor Morgan Freeman late last month, when he arrived in their country to shoot some scenes for a new documentary.
The work, called The Story of God, is a National Geographic High­light Films documentary that seeks to explore faith and theology and answer questions about religion.
Freeman, who portrayed God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, is both star and executive pro­ducer of the documentary, which is expected to be released in April 2016. Locations for the film include Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Guatemala, Turkey and In­dia.
Part of the interest in Freeman’s visit to Egypt was that it represent­ed a chance for the country’s tour­ism officials to renew international attention to the country as a tourist destination.
“Our country has a third of the world’s known antiquities,” said El­hami el-Zayat, the head of Egypt’s Federation for Tourism Chambers. “This is why visits by international stars to the country should be a good chance for us to market our­selves.”
Egyptian Tourism Minister Hes­ham Zaazoua was keen not to miss meeting Freeman at the Pyramids Plateau, taking photos with the US actor. Photos show the men smiling and holding a poster bear­ing the phrase “This is Egypt”, the name of the new campaign to pro­mote tourism in Egypt.
However, the campaign was damaged on October 31st when a Russian jetliner crashed, 23 min­utes after take off from the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. Subse­quent flight suspensions to the Red Sea resort by Britain and Russia threatened to deal a heavy blow to Egypt’s tourism industry.
Egypt’s tourism sector was just starting to recover from the adverse effects of the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising that ousted long­standing president Hosni Mubarak. The country’s tourism revenues in 2011 — the year of the uprising — reached $9 billion, almost $3.5 billion down from the revenues it received in 2010. Since then, the government has been working to go back to 2010 levels.
While in Egypt, Freeman select­ed sites that bespoke nothing but history and faith for The Story of God. Some of the scenes were shot in Islamic Cairo, the vibrant and pulsating heart of Islamic Egypt. Housing the famous market and bazaar known as Khan al-Khalili, Islamic Cairo is the central part of the Egyptian capital. It is noted for centuries-old mosques and Islamic monuments.
Founded in 969 as the royal en­closure for Fatimid caliphs, Islamic Cairo is also known as Medieval or Fatimid Cairo. The tiled alley­ways and narrow streets bursting with shops are replete with his­tory. The area includes the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (the oldest and larg­est in Cairo), al-Azhar University (the world’s oldest university), al-Hakim mosque and many other famous buildings.
Freeman and his colleagues trav­elled 900 kilometres into southern Egypt to the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan province.
The tombs belong to the overse­ers of Upper Egypt during Dynasty VI. They include the tombs of Me­khu and Sabni, father and son dur­ing the reign of Pepy II. Reliefs on the walls of Mekhu’s tomb record his murder while on an expedition in Nubia and the revenge taken by Sabni, his son.
Visitors of the area can view the Nile river, dominated in that part of Egypt by the sand-covered hills of the West Bank, which is strewn with rock-cut tombs of high-profile officials.
Freeman’s journey in Egypt also took him to Saqqara, a name given both to a village 32 km south of Cairo and the extensive ancient ne­cropolis on the plateau above the Nile valley, the location of tombs and pyramids dating to the Old Kingdom (2686-2181BC) and the New Kingdom (1550-1077BC).
The desert plateau above the vil­lage of Saqqara formed one of the main cemeteries of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis for thousands of years. As such, it at­tracted a large number of royal and high-profile burials, the remains of which can be seen in pyramids and decorated tombs across the area.
Freeman’s pursuit of God also took him to Medinet Habu, an ar­chaeological site near the foot of the Theban hills on the West Bank of the Nile opposite Luxor. Al­though other structures are within the area, the location is associated almost exclusively with the Mortu­ary Temple of Ramesses III.
The temple, around 150 metres long, is of an orthodox design and closely resembles the mortuary temple of Ramesses II. It is well preserved and surrounded with a massive mud-brick enclosure. The original entrance to the temple is through a fortified gatehouse that resembles an Asiatic fortress.
Freeman then went to the Pyra­mids Plateau in Giza, which marks a brief departure into the depths of Egyptian history and from the hus­tle and bustle of Cairo.
Freeman was seen with his Pan­ama hat and sunglasses shooting scenes there.
Cinema critic Tarek el-Shennawi says cinema can be a good means of encouraging tourists to visit.
“When an international star like Freeman goes back home with a good impression about Egypt, this makes the best propaganda for our country,” Shennawi said. “Propa­ganda is actually automatically made when a star like this speaks well of our country in the future.”