At the Anba Rweiss Theatre in the grounds of St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, Pope Tawadros II attended a special screening of the film of 49 Martyrs of Sheheat [Scetis]”, the first film produced by St Macarius (Abu-Maqar) Monastery, but definitely not the first film that depicts the lives of saints.
Countless films about saints have been produced before and have been extremely popular with the Coptic congregation. But these films were more often than not private production on threadbare budgets, and thus left much to be desired on the technical level. They also tended towards melodrama and exaggeration in order to appeal to the emotions of viewers.
Not so with the 49 Martyrs of Sheheat”. Even before its first screening, word was out that the new film ranked very high on the technical level, and steered clear of undue excitability. The screening proved this to be true; the film is mature, beautifully made, and on par with the highest level productions.
Dignitaries and Guests
The special screening was attended by the bishops Anba Sarapamoun, Abbot of Anba Bishoi’s Monastery in the Western Desert; Anba Seraphim of Ismailiya; Anba Martyrus, Bishop-General of the East of the Railways churches in Cairo and head of the artistic production committee in the Holy Synod; and Anba Angaelos, Bishop-General of North Shubra churches in Cairo. There were also Fr Boulos, pastor of Jerusalem Church in Egypt; Fr Botros Daniel head of the Catholic Cinema Centre; media figures Dina Abdel-Kareem and Watani’s Victor Salama; screenplay writer Samy Fawzy; actress Ola Ramy; and hymn singer Marianne George, as well as the stars of the film and figures of the media and cultural arena.
The evening celebration started off with a number of hymns and Coptic melodies performed by the Choir of St Mark Church in Heliopolis, lead by George Latif.
Directed by Joseph Nabil and written by Maher Zaki, the 49 Martyrs of Sheheat starred a number of Egyptian actors and actresses, among them Hany Ramzy, Lotfy Labib, Samir Fahmy, Maher Labib, Menna Galal, Ihab Sobhy, Gameel Barsoum, and Ali Abdel-Raheem; with voiceover by Maged al-Kedwani.
Nash’at Zaqlama did the historical verification, and Fr Moussa Rushdy wrote and sang the hymns.
The film is a landmark in the production of Christian drama works. Excellent use was made of modern technology to produce high-resolution screen scenes, and seamless blending of scenes and graphics. The period scenery and costumes were meticulously designed, and the actors and actresses performed their roles with mastery.
Among the most important elements of the film’s success was its music which was fascinating and impressive, and worked to intertwine all the film’s elements. The lyrics and melodies by Nader Nabil and Ivan Adeeb were profound and moving, and brought out the meaningfulness of the events.
Given that the story of these 49 martyrs is written in no more than a couple of pages, the screenplay and dialogue that put it into a 120 minute-long film reflects the thoughtfulness and detail that went into the work. The dialogue, written by Maher Zaki, was thoroughly realistic and moving; it brought to life the fact that struggles during these far-away centuries were no different than those that take place in our 21st.
After the film was screened, Pope Tawadros praised the film, and honoured all who took part in it.
Fifth century story
According to the Coptic Synaxarium, the forty-nine elder priests of Sheheat, the emperor’s envoy Martinos and his son Dios, were all martyred in the 5th century.
Emperor Theodosius the Younger, the son of Emperor Arcadius, did not have a son. He wrote to the elders of Sheheat asking them to pray to God to grant him a son. St Isidor wrote back to him saying that God did not will for him to have a son. But the Emperor’s advisors insisted that he should take another wife in order to produce an heir to the throne. So he sent an envoy named Martinos to Sheheat to consult with them, but the elders insisted on their first view. Martinos had a son named Dios who accompanied him on his visit to the elders in order to receive their blessings.
Before Martinos could go home, the pagan Berbers attacked the monastery and slaughtered 49 elders. Martinos and his son were hiding in a crevice in a wall. The son looked up and saw the angels placing the crowns of glory on the heads of the elders who were killed. The son said to his father, “I see spiritual beings putting crowns on the heads of the elders. I shall go to receive a crown like them.” His father replied, “And I also shall go with you, my son.” Both revealed themselves to the Berbers. They were killed and received the crown of martyrdom. Their bodies lie today in a church at the Monastery of St Macarius. The Coptic Church commemorates them on 26 Touba which coincides with 3 February.
20 September 2016