Following in Freeman’s footsteps in Egypt
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.”