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  Dr. Marian TUTUI, film researcher, curator of the Romanian Film Archive
BALKAN CINEMA VERSUS CINEMA OF THE BALKAN NATIONS 1. History of Cinema in the Balkans: Common Pioneers and Similarities

Extract from the book "ORIENT EXPRESS The Romanian and Balkan cinema" Marian Tutui, NOI Media Print 2011

When two people have the same idea it does
not mean it belongs to neither of them but it
belongs to the entire society where they live. 
                                                Nicolae Iorga

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish
bring us together. 
Eugène Ionesco

Of course, we have not intended to write a very history of cinema in the Balkans but a review of the important events in such a history by identifying similitudes and common facts, beyond simple coincidences.

For Dejan Kosanović and other specialists in the beginnings of cinema the first film screenings in Belgrade (24th of May 1896), Bucharest (27th of May 1896), Zagreb (8th of October 1896), Rousse (17th of February 1897) and Sofia (27th of February 1897) (1) seem to a result of the activity of a numerous team of technicians of Lumière Frères Company who were travelling in the Balkans and were sharing the assignment of making first demonstrations in several towns in the region. Anyway, it is known that Georgi Kuzmić made the first screening in Bulgaria, at Rousse, on the 27th of February 1897, two days after a screening in Bucharest. Later on the beginnings of the cinema industry and the first local productions are due to Western firms and technicians, as well as to the instruction secured by them to local filmmakers. French, Austrian and Hungarian technicians like Paul Menu(2), Georges Ercole, L. Schwedler, J. Janovics, J.Bertok, and Alexander Korda etc. worked in Romania. In Greece besides Italian and Austrian technicians a decisive contribution had the Hungarian Josef Hepp (1897- 1968), author of the first Greek newsreels and later on cameraman and producer between 1917- 1961 of no less than 18 fiction films, from Annoula’s Dowry/ I prika tis Annoulas to Tragedy of the Aegean Sea/ I Tragodhia tou Aegeou. Greek cameraman Gavrilis Longos(3) served his apprenticeship with him. The beginnings of cinema in Bulgaria are linked with Franz Escher and Jan Prohaska, both with Austrian origin who after having a pioneering activity in Serbia and Croatia have contributed to the birth of Bulgarian cinema. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes an important role had also filmmakers and technicians such as Croatian Iosip Novak (1902-1970) and Serbian Stefan Misković (1907-1977, with apprenticeship at Pathe and UFA) who later on did their parts to attempts of Bulgarian national epics such as The Song of the Mountains/ Pesenta na Balkana (1934, i. I.Novak, sound Stefan Misković), Cairn/ Gramada (1936, after Ivan Vazov’s homonymous historical poem, i. and sound St. Misković), They Were Victorious/ Te pobediha (1940, d. I.Novak and Boris Borozanov), Strahil Voivode/ Strahil Voivoda (1938, d. I.Novak). Same as Romanians Jean Mihail (1906- 1963), who spent some time as assistant director in Vienna 1920- 1923, and Jean Georgescu (1904- 1994), scriptwriter and director in France between 1929- 1940, the founders of Bulgarian fiction films Vasil Gendov (1891- 1970) and Boris Grezhov (1889- 1968) served their apprenticeship abroad. The former studied acting in Vienna while the latter worked in Vienna and München(4) studios. Also the prolific Turkish director Muhsin Ertugrul (1892- 1979) worked until 1922 in Germany as actor and director. Baha Belengevi (1907- 1984), another Turkish director who had an important contribution to Turkish cinema until the 50s, had been working for a while as assistant of Abel Gance and Marcel L’Herbier. In Croatia and Slovenia besides the activity of several Serbian pioneers, the activity of some Austrian - Hungarian filmmakers and enterprisers was decisive, as the two Balkan countries have been part of the empire until 1918. Although in the two countries was a powerful trend of national affirmation, inclusively through supporting local cinema productions, in the 30s the first studio making sound films was Svetloton Film, belonging to Czech Josip Klement. He represents an example of filmmaker adopted by his new residence country as he had settled down in Croatia and took its citizenship. Similarly, Paul Menu, born in Romania in a French family, became a Romanian subject but left the country during WW2.

Michael Jon Stoil offers an explanation of the cinema flourishing in Austro- Hungary and its export of expertise and technicians: “In Kolozsvar (now Cluj), Prague, Vienna and Agram (now Zagreb), the motion picture began its existence as a primarily middle-class art form. As a result, early film-making in Danubian Europe reflected the tastes and values of the bourgeoisie. The censorship that had already appeared in Tsarist Russia was absent under the Habsburgs… The First World War brought new life to the failing motion picture industries of Eastern Europe. The Allied blockade prevented new American and French films, formerly the main programs of Eastern European theaters, from reaching the Austro- Hungarian Empire… Alexander Korda shifted his operations from Budapest to Kolozsvar in Transylvania in 1916. For the next two years, the former film critic produced a record of seven features per year for the <Transylvanian Film Company>… Writers, actors and businessmen; people who had never set foot on a studio lot before the war, suddenly enlisted in the cause of national cinema- and made small fortunes almost overnight… The war-time boom collapsed in 1919, almost as suddenly as it had grown. Intellectuals such as Alexander Korda in Hungary and Miroslav Urban in Czechoslovakia desperately tried to stem the second collapse of their national film industries through continued production and the organization of film-makers’ unions.”(5) In another work he adds the following: “In 1916, Janovics’ studio merged with that of Sandor Korda to form the <Corvin> studio. Together, the two producers completed a total of 62 films before abandoning Kolozsvar at the end of the war. Afterwards, the studio continued to operate under Hungarian control, despite the annexation of Transylvania by Romania, until finally being abandoned in 1923. During these last four years, the re-named <Transsilvania> studios continued to outproduce their modest, Romanian-owned competitors in Bucharest.”(6)


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