Autumn 1997 (5.3)
Up until last year, film historians thought the first movie produced in Azerbaijan dated back to 1916 with Svetlov's movie, "In the Realm of Oil and Millions." Then Aydin Kazimzade discovered a small newspaper announcement in the archives of the Lenin Library in Moscow, providing evidence that film in Azerbaijan really dates back nearly 20 years earlier to 1898. Instead of being a latecomer to the fascinating world of cinematography, Azerbaijan was, indeed, among the first countries involved. Last year, Azerbaijan celebrated 80 years of cinematography; next year, because of this new historical proof, they'll celebrate 100!
Left: The first film studio in Baku established
in the 1920s. The location of the studio was behind the Government
Building. It no longer exists.
The Lumière brothers' film, shown publicly for the first in 1895, is recognized as the first movie ever made. Rather mundane in nature, its title was "La Sortie des Usines Lumière" (Lunch Break at the Lumière Factory). It was first shown at the Grand Café on the Capucines Boulevard in Paris. Immediately, the concept for motion pictures swept beyond the borders of France.
It's not surprising that this apparatus soon showed up in Baku. At the turn of the 19th century, this bay town on the Caspian was producing more than 50 percent of the world's supply of oil. Just like today, the oil industry attracted foreigners eager to invest and to work. The service industry quickly followed on the heels of the oil industry.
The Film Footage in
Mishon became active in forming a scientific photo circle in Baku and became its secretary. From 1879 to 1905, he documented landscapes, episodes from oil extraction, the refining process, as well as the oil gushers eruptions and terrifying fires that broke out in the oil fields. Copies of his photos still exist today.
In 1898, Mishon began shooting motion pictures that depicted everyday life in Baku. It was his intention to exhibit them in Paris, but prior to that, he organized a showing in Baku. The "Kaspi" newspaper announced his film on August 1, 1898. It read as follows:
The Newspaper Announcement
"The following films will be shown: Fire resulting from an oil gusher at Bibi-Heybat oil field, the departure ceremony of His Excellency Amir of Bukhara (now Uzbekistan) in the Grand Duke Alexei steamship, a folk dance of the Caucasus, and scenes from the comedy, 'So, You Got Caught,' which was performed recently in one of Baku's parks. For more detailed information, see the posters. The event starts at 21:00 (9 p.m.)."
Needless to say, the event was an enormous
success and Mishon repeated it on August 5, replacing the final
two works with those showing life in Balakhani outside of Baku.
Mishon's footage still exists. "Folk Dance of the Caucasus" was later used in a documentary and scenes from "Oil Gush Fire in Bibi-Heybat" were shown in France in 1995, in a film commemorating the 100th anniversary of world cinema. On November 27, 1899, an article entitled: "Implementation of New Inventions" was published in the "Kaspi" newspaper, written by Hasan Zardabi, writer, scientist and social activist. He observed, "Now we have in our hands a toy machine-called "kinemato-graphe." This wonderful machine was produced only a short time ago and gives the impression of being just a toy. You can find this machine which is called 'stroboscope' in many optician shops."
This fact would indicate the early replicas of this first Azerbaijani apparatus-stroboscopes-were being sold in Baku at the turn of the last century.
Between 1907-1910, archival
footage indicates that Mr. V. Amashukeli, one of the founders
of the Georgian cinematography, produced footage dealing with
life in Baku "Types of Baku Markets," "Strolling
along the Seashore" and "Work on Oil Rigs."
In 1915 the Pirone brothers of Belgium set up a film production laboratory in Baku. They invited film director Svetlov from St. Petersburg to work for them and produce "The Woman," "An Hour before His Death" and "An Old Story in a New Manner." It was Svetlov who also directed the film entitled "In the Realm of Oil and Millions" which later became so well known. The famous Azerbaijani actor Husein Arablinski played Lutfali, the main role in this film.
In 1917, a documentary entitled "National Freedom Holiday in Baku" was made. The film includes footage taken of the central square of Baku, its streets, avenues, parks and the seashore.
In 1919 during the short-lived independence of the first Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a documentary called "The First Anniversary of the Musavat Power in Azerbaijan" was made. Filmed on Azerbaijan's Independence Day, May 28, this chronicle premiered in June at several cinema houses such as "Express," "Record," and "Forum."
Arshin Mal Alan-"The Cloth
A second version of "Arshin Mal Alan" was produced in 1917 by G. Belyakov from St. Petersburg. Belyakov did not ask Hajibeyov's permission to make a film. Nor were there any backdrops or stage settings. All the scenes were filmed in courtyards of houses and in the "Forum" cinema house. The only backdrop that Belyakov used was carpets which he thought made the film distinctly Azerbaijani. All the actors were amateurs. As the quality of the film ended up being so poor, Hajibeyov eventually managed to pull it out of circulation.
Despite all these simple beginnings, cinema had taken root. There were no film studios in the beginning. Nor was there any systematic cinematic technique. Nevertheless, it's evident that people were passionately enthusiastic about film from its earliest beginning.
The Soviet Period
Aydin Kazimzade is Director
of Azerbaijan's Cinema Museum and Assistant Editor of the Encyclopedia
of Azerbaijani Cinema.