A new documentary about Egyptian acting legend Omar Sharif is being planned, aiming to not only chart his long career in film and television, but also examine the way politics shaped his character.
The film, titled The Life and Times of Omar Sharif, will be made by Egyptian director/producer Mark Lotfy together with Swedish director Axel Petersén. As well as his legendary performances, focus will also be on the ways in which President Gamal Adel Nasser’s policies affected the late actor.
Sharif, who died in 2015 aged 83, was born as Roman Catholic with the name Michel Demitri Shalhoub, but changed his name and converted to Islam in the 1950s, a move largely attributed to the political developments of the times. Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Greek, and Italian fluently, bridled at travel restrictions imposed by Nasser’s government, leading to self-exile in Europe.
The documentary will be produced by Sigrid Helleday’s Stockholm-based Fedra alongside Mark Lotfy’s Alexandria-based Fig Leaf Studios (a studio that aims to empower independent cinema movement in the city by supporting artists and filmmakers with equipment and technical assistance) and London’s Cornish Media.
Sharif began his acting career in 1954in Egypt with a role in Struggle in the Valley (Sira’ Fi al-Wadi)and quickly rose to stardom in the country. His first English-language role was that of the fictitious Sherif Ali in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, and he went on to star in films such as Doctor Zhivago (1965); Funny Girl (1968), opposite Barbra Streisand and The Tamarind Seed (1973) opposite Julie Andrews.
Petersén told Variety: ”Omar Sharif was a conversation piece that we could always come back to. Quite early on in our relationship we realised that we had two very, very different perceptions of Omar Sharif.
“Me, representing the West, I saw him as some Hollywood superstar, playboy, glamour man, while Mark, representing theEast and Egypt, had a completely different perception. He knew him as a persona non grata, like an Egyptian Judas. … We couldn’t figure it out. How could our views be so different?” he is quoted as saying.