Wednesday, 23rd of December 2009 ,The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was hosting an interview with one of the most legendary and revolutionary Hollywood film directors, screen writers and actors of our time,  Martin Scorsese. When I first saw the event on facebook I had my doubts that he would actually be in attendance especially when the date was so close to Christmas. Never the less I checked myself off as attending. If it was to take place I didn’t want to miss out on the very rare and privileged occasion. How often is Alexandria graced by the presence of a director of his caliber?

For those of you who are not familiar with what Scorsese does or his work, he is the founder of the World Cinema Foundation (http://worldcinemafoundation.net/),  to help preserve American cinema and to also help developing countries preserve theirs. Scorsese has also received AFI’s Life Time Achievement award as well as the prestigious BAFTA, Golden Globe, Director Guild Of America and most recently an Oscar for ‘Departed’.

I left my house an hour before the event was due to commence, I wanted to make sure that I would get there early enough to find a decent seat, where I could see and hear him speak. I got there half an hour early and everyone seemed to have had the same idea as I did. People swarmed in to the large hall and descended upon the seats like a swarm of bees. I was lucky enough to get a seat not too close or too far from the stage, I had an excellent  and clear view from where I was sat.

People continued to file in to the hall, in the midst of the buzz you could hear talk about Scorsese’s achievements, awards and movies as well as friendly chit chat whilst they waited for the guest of honor to arrive. The hall was filled with people of all ages and fields of expertise eagerly awaiting the interview  to begin.

Promptly at 5pm an entourage of some of Egypt’s well-known films stars and directors entered the hall, as they made their way to their seats, flashes from cameras heightened their entrance and the audience burst in to applause and cheers. Yosra, Hussein Fahmy, Kahled Abul Naga and a few more responded to the crowd with big smiles of appreciation and waved back at their adoring fans. Moments after their entrance the Library’s director, Dr. Ismail Serageldin entered with the man we had all gathered to come and hear speak. The applause, cheers, whistles of the crowd were deafening as they gave the story-teller a standing ovation.

Serageldin didn’t need to introduce the master we were all familiar with his work. My personal favorites are ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, ‘Aviator’ and ‘Gangs Of New York’. I have yet to see ‘Departed’ and ‘Shine A Light’.

Dr.Serageldin did a formidable job interviewing Scorsese. He was well versed and knew a lot about the movies that Scorsese had made as well as the history of the era’s that some of the films were about. The interview was intellectually stimulating, interesting and often humorous as times. From solely having attended and witnessed the interview Serageldin is the man to have as the director of the modern-day Alexandria Library. I’m sure my great Uncle, Mohamed El Bashir El Shindy would be proud, he was at one time the head of the old Alexandria Library. (so, I have been told by family members).

 In the interview we learned about Scorsese’s family, who were Italian immigrants, he also spoke of the Sicilian quarter of the Italian neighborhood that he grew up in, in New York, which is where many of the ideas and characters for his movies came from. If Scorsese hadn’t been asthmatic as a child and taken to the cinema to watch films and hadn’t figured out that he didn’t have the vocation to devote his life to God and people, cinema today would be very different.

 Scorsese spoke openly and candidly about his many mentors (priest, teachers and fellow directors), as well as his old-time friend and Hollywood superstar Robert DeNiro, (who grew up in the same area as he did, but didn’t meet until years later).

 What intrigued me about the man speaking on stage is that he wasn’t only familiar with movies from his part of the world, but he had seen and knew a lot of international movies such as our very own Youssef Shaine. Scorsese had also personally taken the restoration of renowned Egyptian director, Shadi Abdel Salaam’s famous master piece ‘The Mummy’ under his wing.  (http://www.dailystaregypt.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=7343)

 What fascinated me was even after over 3 decades of working in the industry, this mans passion for cinema is still strong and flowing deep within his pulsating veins. “I still have an obsession of watching one image being put next to the other.’’ He had said during his interview.

 While the interview was going on, people were writing down questions to ask the director and ushers came to collect them. When the time came for Serageldin to ask a few of the selected questions from the captivated audience, there were two that were that stood out in my memory.

 1-      Would you ever consider making a movie here in Egypt? 

Apparently as a young child Scorsese used to draw picture books of the ancient world and it has been a dream of his to make a movie around the time of the pharaohs.

 2-      With all the negative attention the Middle East is getting could cinema help break the ice or bridge the gap between the West and the Middle East?

 “ I Think it could be a useful tool.’’

With that the interview came to an end.

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