The Shepherd introduces a little-known part in the life of Pope Shenouda III
The charismatic figure of Pope Shenouda III, the 117th patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church who passed away last March, will be entrenched in the conscience of the Copts for many years to come. Although he is no longer alive, his words and sermons, tears and jokes are engraved in the hearts and souls of many people, even those who disagreed with him.
Making a film about the late Pope’s life would always be a risky adventure. The script writer, however, was professional enough to choose a little known period of the Pope’s lifetime—from his birth until his ordination—to sow the seeds of the drama in the recent film al-Raie (The Shepherd), which is taken from The Lit Lamp of Monasticism by Nash’at Zaqlama.
The first screening of the film was held in the Anba Rweiss Theatre at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo, and was attended by Pope Tawadros II; Anba Sarapamoun, Abbot of the Anba Bishoy Monastery; Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth; and Anba Psenti, Bishop of Helwan. Pope Shenouda’s nephew, Fr Boutros Boutros Gayed, the pastor of the church of the Holy Virgin in Zaitoun, Cairo, also attended. The filmmakers and the members of the cast were also present.
Pope Tawadros honoured all those who had been involved in the production and execution of the film, the actors and technicians, as well as those who introduced it to the public.
The event was presented by George Rashad.
The director, Maged Tawfiq, managed to produce an exceptional film. Although it is two hours long, the fast-moving pace of the unfolding events saves it from being as long-winded, even tedious, as other Coptic films.
The film opens with the historic funeral of Pope Shenouda. We see the grief of the Copts through the eyes of Salam, a man from the Pope’s birthplace near Assiut, played by the veteran actor Maher Labib. Salam’s mourning is interrupted by a journalist (Ihab Sobhy), looking for information about the early life of the Pope up to the time of his ordination.
The narrative takes us to the events surrounding his birth, focusing on the profound relationship between the village Muslims and Copts and the role of the Muslim women who acted as wet nurses to the baby, Nazir, after his mother dies in childbirth. Nazir’s older brother Raphael, played here by Emad al-Raheb, took it upon himself to bring up his brothers, moving with them from one town to another. The director made an effective choice with Fady George, who plays Nazir as a small boy, but the film’s main surprise is Ayman Amir as Nazir the young man up to his ordination as a monk.
The film addresses some of the major turning points over Pope Shenouda’s lifetime, his student years at university, his service in Sunday school and his insistence on changing the word ‘orphanage’ to’ home’; his role as a reserve officer and his participation in the Palestine War of 1948. The film shows what led him to choose the path of monasticism, his solitude in the cell, his friendship with his mentor, the monk Abdel-Messih al-Habashy (Gamil Barsoum) and the wonderful way he said, “Our Father which art in Heaven” in the Amharic language.
Praise is due to those behind the camera who were responsible for make-up, light, decor and costume, and to George Bushra for his magnificent musical score.
Behind the scenes
• The director used his own father’s military uniform as the uniform of the young Nazir during the Palestine war.
• The film was shot in only ten days.
• Pope Tawadros II introduced the film, describing it as “a historical documentary for coming generations.”
• The director announced that he would not be making a second part of the film.
• Ayman Amir has proved himself a promising and talented actor.
Robeir al-Faris, who is a Watani journalist and a member of the Egyptian association of critics and cinema writers, was honoured by Pope Tawadros II for his review of the film in Watani.
17 March 2013