By Laman Ismayilova
Azerbaijan's film industry is booming with countless full-length and short films well known worldwide. Movies are one of the largest sources of entertainment in the world. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography.
Let´s go back in time
Shortly after the Lumiere brothers from France invented and patented Cinematographe (1895), Russian photographer and cameraman Alexandre Michon, began shooting motion pictures that depicted everyday life in Baku.
"You are caught" was the first short and silent film in the national cinematography. The film was screened in Baku on August 2, 1898. Alexandre Michon also made films about the life of native Baku, including "Fire at Bibi Eybat", "Oil fountain on Balakhany-Sabunchu field", "Caucasian Dance" and others.
To honor this remarkable event, August 2 was declared as a professional holiday that highlights the role of cinematography in Azerbaijan.
The country's film industry enjoyed further growth. In 1915, the Pirone brothers of Belgium set up a film production laboratory in Baku.
Famous film director Boris Svetlov came to Baku and shot the films "The Woman", "An Hour before His Death" and "An Old Story in a New Manner" at their invitation. He also directed the film "In the Kingdom of Oil and Millions". Legendary national actor Huseyn Arablinski played Lutfali, the main role in this film.
In 1916, Boris Svetlov shot the musical comedy "The Cloth Peddler" (Arshin Mal Alan), originally a silent movie with the musical parts performed in a studio and female roles played by male actors.
The role of Gulchohra was played by Ahmad Aghdamski and Aunt Jahan was played by Y. Narimanov.
The operetta covers such themes as pure love, women's rights, and fight against outdated traditions.
With the establishment of Soviet power, a new era in the art of cinema began in Azerbaijan.
One of the first steps taken during the Soviet power was the nationalization of films and all spheres of cinematography were in the state jurisdiction.
The leadership of the Azerbaijani SSR decided to create the country's first film factory in 1922, which became the predecessor of today's Azerbaijanfilm film studio. In the following year, the Azerbaijan Photo Film Institution (APFI) was established, carrying out measures to nationalize and unite photo-cinemas and rental offices of individual entrepreneurs.
APFI shot its first film “The Maiden Tower Legend” in 1924, the first Azerbaijani film based on the legend about the Maiden Tower.
In the 1930s, Russian director Boris Barnet filmed “By the Bluest of Seas” in Azerbaijan. The film was set on one of the country's islands in the Caspian Sea.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Baku film studio mainly directed artistic documentaries. During this period "Fatali Khan" (1947, film director V.I.Dzigan) and "The Baku Lights" (1950, film directors I.V.Kheyfits, A.G.Zarkhi and R.Tahmasib) were shot.
New stage of national films began in the middle of the 1950s. The movies "Under The Broiling Sun" (1957, film director L.Safarov), "Black Stones" (1958, film director A.Quliyev), "The Shades Are A Creeping" (1958, film directors I.Afandiyev and Sh.Sheykhov), "His Large Heart" (1959, film director A.Ibrahimov), "A True Friend" (1959, T.Tagizade), "Could He Be Forgiven" (1960, film director Tahmasib), "Our Street" (1961, film director A.Atakishiyev), "A Large Pier" (1962, film director H.Ismayilov), "A Telephone Girl", "There Is Such An Island As Well" 1962-1963, film director H.Seyidbayli), "Stepmother" (1959, film director H.Ismayilov) are the best examples of national films shot during these years.
After Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union, the country's cinematography entered a completely new and significant phase. East-West 1st Baku International Film Festival was held in the country.
Film industry in present days
Today Azerbaijan's film industry enjoys tremendous success and recognition at international film festivals.
A number of national films like "The Steppe Man", "Pomegranate Orchard", "Sholler's Archive" have been highly appreciated by film critics and cinema lovers around the world. Many national film makers and actors are awarded with prestigious prizes and diplomas.
Over the past time, the "The Steppe Man" film was named best at five festivals. In particular, the movie won the prize at Near Nazareth Festival 2019 (Israel) in "Best Cast" nomination in June. In May, "The Steppe Man" was also named "Best Feature Film" at Florence Film Awards 2019 (Italy), European Screen Awards 2019 (Indonesia), Royal Wolf Film Awards (U.S.), Oniros Film Awards (Italy), etc.
"Pomegranate Orchard" was successfully presented at film festivals in Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Germany, Belarus, Australia, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, the United States and other countries. In 2017, it was included in the long list of candidates for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Azerbaijani actress Ilaha Hasanova has been awarded for her work in this film.
“Sholler's Archive" was awarded the prizes at Noord-Holland European Cinematography Awards. The film won in the nominations "Best Dramatic Film" and "Best Feature Film".
The film also grabbed five gold medals and received a certificate of excellence in filmmaking at Mediterranean Film Festival Cannes 2018 in France. In 2018, it was named the most awarded Azerbaijani feature film.
In February, 2019, "Sholler's Archive" won a prize at the third Rosarito Film Festival held in Mexico.
Azerbaijan is also home to numerous film festivals that showcase the best of local and international cinematography. European Film Festival, International Tourism Film Festival, DokuBaku International Documentary Film Festival are among the festivals held in the country.
This year, Azerbaijan marks the 121st anniversary of national cinema. Nizami cinema center will host a gala evening dedicated to the National Cinema Day on August 2.
Famous representatives of film industry, young cinematographers as well as public and cultural figures will take part in the festive evening. Video footage of various film studios will be presented. The awarding ceremony will also be held as part of the evening.
Feature films by young directors Kanan Yashar, Parvin Hasanova as well as a project by Orkhan Agazade will be screened.
Laman Ismayilova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Lam_Ismayilova
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