Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography. At the end of 1897, only two years after the Lumière brothers held their first film screening in Paris, the brothers’ cameraman was invited to Azerbaijan. The first film screening in Bakı took place on January 8, 1898. On May 31 of that same year the Scientific Photo Circle, a group founded by well-known Bakı photographer Alexandre Michon, organized a public walking tour of the Mikhayilov Garden (now renamed the Aliagha Vahid Garden) for charitable purposes. Michon filmed the event and on June 21, 1898, his documentation of this event was shown together with several other shorts like “Arrival of a train at the train station”, “Departure of a Steamship” and “Market Street at Dusk”. A second film screening was held on August 2, 1898. The program included “The Departure Ceremony of the Amir of Buchara on the Velikiy Knyaz Aleksey Steamship”, “Caught” and “Caucasian Dance” also shot by Michon. He made other film shorts as well, such as “Fire at the Oil Well in Bibiheybat” and “Oil Well in Balakhani”. His films were shown to great acclaim at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair and the Lumière brothers purchased a number of them that were later donated to the Paris Cinema Archive. In 2001, an initiative of the Azerbaijan Cinema Fund brought copies of these films back to Azerbaijan from Paris. In 2000, President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev issued a decree declaring August 2 as “National Film Day”.
After Michon, the Pirone brothers from Belgium commenced film production activities in Azerbaijan. In 1915 they founded a company named “Film” in Bakı, and between 1916-17 with financial support from local businessmen the company made a number of films such as “In the Land of Oil and the Millions” and “Arshin mal alan”. The first film is based on a novel by the well-known author Ibrahim Bey Musabayov, and the second is based on Uzeyir Hajibeyli’s comedy by the same title. Soon after their appearance these films, too, garnered international praise. 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 1919 at several theatres in Bakı.
Building on the foundation of the film and photo bureaus already existing in Azerbaijan, the first movie production factory was officially opened in Bakı on April 28, 1923. The Azerbaijan Photo and Film Authority was established that same year. In the period between 1920-30, the films made here dealt with historical developments such as the emancipation of women and changes within the country, e.g., “Bismillah”, “Haji Gara”, “A Play of Love”, “Latif” and “Ismat and the Peasants”. Three unforgettable films were shot during this period: “The Fate of Abbas”, the first animated cartoon; “On the Shore of the Blue Sea”, the first sound film; and in 1937 “Chapayev”, the first sound film dubbed into Azerbaijani. The period between 1940 and 1950 marked a new phase in Azerbaijani filmmaking. It was during this time that young cinematographers, graduates of the Moscow Cinema Institute in the Soviet Union, were returning to Azerbaijan to make films like “Sabuhi”, “Arshin mal alan”, “O olmasin, bu olsun”, “Bakhtiyar” and “His Great Soul”. In 1946 a group of actors from “Arshin mal alan” (1945) were awarded the USSR State Prize, the highest honor in the Soviet Union. In the ensuing years “Arshin mal alan” was shown in more than 130 countries under the name “Love Beneath the Veil” and brought fame to its makers. The movie “Arshin mal alan” was shown in more than 130 countries.
The 1960s and 1970s brought innovations in terms of both artistry and content to Azerbaijani film. The following movies were made for the wide screen: “Ulduz”, “Telephone Girl”, “Our Teacher Jabish”, “In a Southern City”, “Investigation”, “The Last Night of Childhood”, “The Crazy Cure”, “Babek”, “Nasimi”, “Stars Don’t Burn Out”, “I’d Like to Have Seven Sons”, “Dada Gorgud”, “Stepmother” and more. Azerbaijani cinema suffered at the end of the 1980s because of the bleak economic situation; however, a few films were made during this time including, “Nizami”, “Chords of a Long Life”, “A Second Life”, “Night without Bounds”, “Scoundrel”, “The Day of the Murder”, “Tahmina” and others.
During the years of independence the following films, among others, made a contribution to Azerbaijani cinematography, “The White Rider”, “Outcry”, “The Blonde Bride”, “The Frenchman”, “Everything Will Be OK”, “The Other Time”, “Bat” and “Hotel Room”. A number of Azerbaijani filmmakers have received international awards, including, inter alia, Hasan Seyidbeyli, Vagif Mustafayev, Rasim Ojagov, and Ayaz Salayev.