Cinema of Azerbaijan
The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography. When the Lumiere brothers of France premiered their first motion picture footage in Paris on December 28, 1895, little did they know how rapidly it would ignite a new age of photographic documentation. These ingenuous brothers invented an apparatus, patented in February 1895, which they called the "Cinematographe" (from which the word "cinematography" is derived). 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.
A Frenchman by the name of Alexander Mishon was among the first entrepreneurs who came and settled in Baku. A photographer and cameraman by profession, he is believed to have lived in Baku for more than 25 years where he set up a photo studio. 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 and terrifying fires that broke out in the oil fields. In 1898, Mishon began shooting motion pictures that depicted everyday life in Baku. It was his intention to exhibit them in Paris.
Mishon's footages still exist up to date in the archives of the Union of Cinematographers of Azerbaijan. The Folk Dance of Caucasus was later used in a documentary, and the scenes from The Oil Gush Fire in Bibiheybat were shown in France in 1995, in a film commemorating the 100th anniversary of world cinema.
In 1915 the Pirone brothers of Belgium set up a film production laboratory in Baku. They invited film director Boris Svetlov from St. Petersburg (Russia) 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 Huseyn Arablinski played Lutfali, the main role in this film.
In 1919, during the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a documentary called The Celebration of the Anniversary of Azerbaijani Independence was filmed on Azerbaijan's independence day, May 28, and premiered in June 1918 at several theatres in Baku.
After the Soviet power was established in 1920, Nariman Narimanov, Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, signed a decree nationalizing Azerbaijan's cinema. The People's Education Commissariat, which functioned somewhat like a Ministry, created an art department which included a film section headed by Hanafi Teregulov and Muslim Magomayev, a notable composer and opera singer. In 1922 the government of Azerbaijan decided to create the first cinema factory which became the forerunner of today's film studio Azerbaijanfilm.
In 1923 the Azerbaijan Photo Film Institution (APFI) was established by a special decree of the Council of People's Commissars. The Institution controlled all the movie houses and distribution bureaus. Thus, a new epoch in the history of Azerbaijani cinema began – a period when Soviet ideology, not individual entrepreneurship, dominated the film industry.
In 1991, after Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union, first Baku International Film Festival East-West was held in Baku. In December 2000, the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, signed a decree proclaiming August 2 professional holiday of filmmakers of Azerbaijan.
Now that the USSR does not exist anymore, Azerbaijani filmmakers are again dealing with issues similar to those faced by cinematographers prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920. Once again, both choice of content and sponsorship of films are largely left up to the initiative of the filmmaker.