Badr Lama


Badr Lama

بدر لاما
23 April 1907, Chile
1 October 1947, Cairo

Badr Lama was born on 23 April 1907 in Chile. His father, Abdallah Ibrahim al-Aʿma, had emigrated there from Bethlehem in 1890, as many people from the Levant region did at the time. He married a Palestinian woman named Liza Khalil Bishara Sara, who like him was an immigrant from Bethlehem, and together they had three sons: Issa, Ibrahim, and Badr. Because Spanish speakers find it difficult to pronounce the Arabic letter ʿayn, the surname of the family ended up being altered from the original “al-Aʿma” [“the blind man”] into “Lama.”

While still in Chile, two of the Lama brothers, Ibrahim and Badr, became interested in photography, and Badr worked as assistant to the director of two short films there. In 1924, Ibrahim and Badr decided to return to Bethlehem. However, when their steamship docked in Alexandria, they disembarked and decided to settle there. This is how their career in Egyptian cinema began, when the film industry in Egypt was still in its infancy and the films being made were still silent films.

In the beginning, the Lama brothers worked as photographers and joined Ansar al-Suwar al-Mutaharrika, or the Champions of Moving Images Society, which subsequently became a film production company called Mena Films. Eventually, they broke away from it, and in 1926 they formed their own production company called Condor Films, which was to play a major role over many years in the Egyptian film industry. In 1927, the two brothers produced Condor’s first film, Qubla fi-l-Sahraʾ (A Kiss in the Desert), which they shot in a small makeshift studio that was set up inside a private bungalow in the Victoria neighborhood in the suburbs of Alexandria. Badr Lama was enamored of the films of the Italian actor Rudolph Valentino, who in 1926 had starred in the film The Son of the Sheikh that takes place in the desert. A Kiss in the Desert was the Lama brothers’ remake of this film. Collaborating with his brother Ibrahim, Badr adapted the plot to make it into one of the first Arab action-adventure films with a romantic storyline, where the role of the heroine was played by Badriyya Raʾfat, the stage name of actress Josephine George Sarkissi. Historians consider it one of the earliest Arab silent films, and it played in Alexandria’s Cosmograph Cinema and in cinemas in Beirut.

Thanks to the Lama brothers’ success, Alexandria began to compete with Cairo as a center for filmmaking. The brothers set up a film studio inside their home, fitted with equipment, and also established their company’s office there. In 1928, they produced a new film, Fajiʿa fawq al-haram, directed by Ibrahim, and starring Badr in the lead role alongside Fatima Rushdi. It played in cinemas in Aleppo. In 1930, they followed it up with a third film, Muʿjizat al-Hubb, which they shot outdoors. It played in cinemas in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem and is considered to be one of the earliest Arab musicals.

After the film industry became concentrated in the Egyptian capital, Badr and his brother Ibrahim moved to Cairo in 1930. They opened the first full-scale film studio in Egypt, called Studio Lama, located in the Hadayek al-Qubba neighborhood. They continued to produce Bedouin-themed films, and it is said that they imported into Egyptian cinema elements from the American Western film, suffused with an oriental flavor. In the 1936-1937 season, however, they returned to producing melodramas. They continued working through World War II and produced ten feature-length films.

Badr Lama acted in twenty-two films, which included Bedouin-themed films such as Ma‘ruf al-Badawi (Maarouf the Bedouin) in 1935 and Ibn al-Sahraa (Desert Son) in 1942, as well as period dramas such as Saladin in 1941, co-starring his wife Badriyya Raʾfat, which is considered to be the first cinematic biography about the Ayyubid dynasty leader Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi; it played at the Cosmo Cinema in Cairo. He also featured in the film Cleopatra in 1943, playing the role of Marc Antony, in addition to other melodramas, such as Qais wa Laila (Qais and Laila), co-starring Amina Rizk in 1939, and al-Harib (The Fugitive) in 1939, as well as films dealing with social issues, such as Sarkha fi-l-Lail (A Cry in the Night) in 1940, Nidaʾ al-Dam (Call of Blood) in 1943, and Wahida (co-starring Badriyya Raʾfat) in 1944. The last film he featured in was al-Badawiyya al-Hasnaa (The Bedouin Beauty), also co-starring Raʾfat, in 1947. Lama collaborated with directors other than his brother Ibrahim in very few films, such as Rabiha in 1945, directed by Niazi Mustafa. However, his work was not limited to acting; out of the total of twenty-two films that he acted in, he co-wrote the scripts of three, co-edited five, and co-produced two.

The Lama Brothers’ Studio is responsible for giving Egyptian and Arab cinema dozens of films. It is also credited with launching the careers of a number of actors and actress on the Egyptian silver screen, such as Anwar Wagdy, Mahmoud el-Meliguy, Abdel Salam al-Nabulsi, Zaki Rustom, Hussein Sidqi, the singer Abdel Aziz Mahmoud, Badriyya Raʾfat, Fatima Rushdi, Bahija Hafez, Amina Rizk, Laila Fawzi, Soraya Refaat, singer and composer Nadira Amin, and Badia Masabni.

Badr Lama died from heart failure in Cairo on 1 October 1947 after suffering from angina and was buried there. He is credited with the first on-screen kiss in Arab cinema, performed with the actress Badriyya Raʾfat, who was his actual wife and mother of his daughters. After his death, Raʾfat’s financial state deteriorated badly, especially after a fire broke out in Studio Lama in Hadayek al-Qubba and the studio burned down completely along with everything in it, including the film reels. Raʾfat decided then to retire from acting, but the director and screenwriter Sayyed Ziada convinced her to return to work once more, and she featured in the film al-Liqaʾ al-Akhir (The Last Encounter), which co-starred Emad Hamdy and Mohsen Sarhan. The film, however, was not a major hit, and Raʾfat decided to retire from the film industry permanently. She emigrated to Canada, where she died in 2009 in Montreal.

After Badr Lama’s death, Condor Films continued producing films through the rest of the 1940s, directed by Ibrahim and starring his son Samir. The company’s last film, al-Qafila Taseer (The Caravan moves along), was made in 1951 and was shot in Sudan. After Ibrahim killed his wife and himself in a murder-suicide in May 1953, his son Samir Lama moved to Beirut, where he acted in a few films that were produced in Lebanon.

In 2013, Raed Duzdar made a documentary called The Lama Brothers, produced by Palestine TV. The film, which was screened at al-Kasaba Theater and Cinematheque in Ramallah, takes an in-depth look at the Aʿma family in Bethlehem, with several interviews conducted with the Lama brothers’ paternal cousins, during which they speak of their memories of Ibrahim and Badr’s visits to their native town, especially in 1936, which witnessed one of the longest-lasting general strikes in the history of Palestine. It was during this visit that the Lama brothers happened to shoot The Fugitive and featured some of their cousins as actors in the film.



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