Albert Samama Chikly (Samama-Chikli)
Tunisian film pioneer
In 1897 Albert Samama Chikly, a Tunisian Jew, together with a photographer named Soler, organised the first screenings of Lumière films in a Tunis shop. The original twelve minute programme of films, bolstered by some magic lantern views, included such familiar titles as La Sortie de l'Usines and L'Arrivée d'un Train. In common with the introduction of film in many non-Western countries, Tunisia was offered its first films from a businessman who also introduced other modern novelties; in Chikly's case, the bicycle, radio and X-rays. Unusually, Chikly was to persevere in his film interests. He was active as an actuality filmmaker in Tunisia and France, filming over Tunis from a balloon in 1908, and filming for the French army at Verdun during the First World War. He also took Autochrome colour photographs during the war. He knew the Lumière brothers, Abel Gance and Rex Ingram, who wanted his actress daughter Haydée Chikly to work in Hollywood. Chikly made the first Tunisian fiction film, a short entitled Zohra made in 1922, and then the first Tunisian feature film, Ain el-Ghezal ou la fille de Carthage (The Girl from Carthage), in 1924, a remarkable achievement when African filmmaking in general was almost non-existant. Both films starred his daughter, who continued acting in Tunisian films into the 1990s. His tombstone bears the epitaph: ‘Tireless in curiosity, reckless in courage, audacious in enterprise, obstinate amidst trials, resigned to misfortune, he leaves his friends’.
Luke McKernan (revised entry February 2004)