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History of the Azerbaijan cinema

Azerbaijan Films

Two years after the birth of cinematograph, the performance of "moving cartoons" by brothers Lumier in Paris, in 1898, the photographer from Baku, A.M.Mishon shoots film stories on oilfields and organizes the first public film performance. It took place in Baku on August 2, 1898, and residents of Baku having seen the life of their city ("Fire on Bibi-Heybat", "Oil fountain in the field Balakhani-Sabunchu", "Caucasian dance", "I stumbled" and so on) on the screen for the first time, unwillingly became witnesses of an historical event - the birth of cinematograph in Azerbaijan.
Starting from this moment photograph-cameramen shoot stories on various subjects. And in 1916, Pirone brothers, the entrepreneurs, placed cinematograph on production basis. They established in Baku the "Film" joint-stock company, where they began to produce feature films. One of the first films shot in this studio is "In the realm of oil and millions" (director - B.Svetlov, in the leading role - G.Arablinskiy), after the same named novel by Azerbaijani writer I.Musabeyov.
After the occupation of Azerbaijan by the XI Red Army and the establishment of soviet regime in the country in 1920, all film and photo enterprises were nationalized. And in 1923 Azerbaijani Photo-Film Administration - APFA was established. In the same year State Film-factory started to shoot the film "Maiden tower" (dir. V.Balluzec). The film was orientated on the exotic demonstration of the East, on the details of ethnographical characteristics.
The most interesting feature films shot in State Film-factory for the period from 1920 through1930s are the following: "In the name of God" ("Bismillah"-1925) and "Haji Gara" (1928), where the director, Abbas Mirza Sharifzadeh truly narrates the tragic fates of people under the realm of religious fanaticism. In the film after the play by Dj.Djabbarli "Sevil" (1929, dir. A.Beynazarov), the character of Azerbaijani woman, struggling for her equal rights in the society had its artistic embodiment. In the films "Letif" (1930) and "Ismet" (1934), the director Mikayil Mikayilov makes an attempt to adopt a modern theme. In 1936, the first Azerbaijani director, with professional education got in Moscow, Samed Mardanov together with Boris Barnet, shot the first sound-film "On blue seashore" (which is sometimes included to the list of the best films of ever in the writings of some well-known film theorists). In 1939 Samed Mardanov starts the production of the film "Kendliler" ("The peasants"). But the director could not see the opening night of his film. His life was tragically cut short. However, in the works he managed to  make, the language of professional cinematographic stylistics, aspiration for the poetical reflection of the reality, realistic interpretation of characters are clearly seen.
In 1945, the directors, Rza Tahmasib and Lev Leshenko, made a screen version of the musical comedy "Arshin mal alan" (The cloth peddler) by Uzeir Hadjibeyov. It is interesting that the film was subjected the harsh criticism. Meanwhile, cheerfulness, humor and national coloring made it very popular not only in Azerbaijan, but also far beyond its borders. The film was honored with one of the highest awards of that time, USSR State award.
In the late 40s the film production decreased. Only documentaries were produced. The only feature film shot in this period was "Fatali-khan" by the director, E.L.Dzigan.
The 50s-60s revealed such directors as Tofig Tagizadeh, Hasan Seyidbeyli, Ejder Ibrahimov, Habib Ismailov, Huseyn Seyidzadeh, Letif Safarov, Alisettar Atakishiyev, Shamil Mahmudbeyov and others. The increase in the number of films lead to the expansion of the theme: "Bakhtiyar" by the director Letif Safarov (1956); "If not that one, then this one" (1956) and "The invincible battalion" (1965) by the director Huseyn Seyidzadeh; "Two from the same district" by the director I.Gurin and A.Ibrahimov (1957); "On distant shores" by Tofig Tagizadeh (1958); "Stepmother" by Habib Ismailov (1958); "The telephone operator" (1962) and "Why do you remain silent?" (1967) by Hasan Seyidbeyli; "The secret of a fortress" (1959) and "The magic khalat" (1964) by the director Alisettar Atakishiyev.
From the second half of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s new names of different directors appeared in Azerbaijani film: Eldar Guliyev, Rasim Odjagov, Arif Babayev, Ogtay Mirgasimov, Yalchin Efendiyev, Tofig Ismailov, Gulya Azimzadeh, Teymur Bekirzadeh, Yuliy Gousman, Zaur Meherremov and others. Scriptwriters: Anar, Alla Akhundova, Rustem and Magsud Ibrahimbeyovs, Isa Huseynov, Yusif Samedoglu, Ramiz Fataliyev and others. In this period of the Azerbaijani film, the films on the contemporaneity are still in the leading places. The main subject became the reflection of a personality, with problems they faced, requiring artistic investigation. The film of director, Eldar Guliyev, "In a southern town" (1969), distinguished for the freshness of idea and characteristics of national peculiarity, marked a new stage in the Azerbaijani cinematography. The film was received ambiguously. At first its demonstration was prohibited by the state administration.
In this year the films, where the directors tried to reveal the social layer of the community, its contradictions, started to be produced. The moral problems were also in the focus. These films are: "The last night of childhood" (1970) and "A day has past" (1971) by the director Arif Babayev; "Our Jabish teacher" (1970) and "The price of happiness" (1976) by the director Hasan Seyidbeyli; "The birthday party" (1977) and "Interrogation" (1979) by the director Rasim Odjagov; "Shared bread" by the director Shamil Mahmudbeyov (1970) and others.
In this period there were produced more successful films dedicated to the historical past of our nation. In 1974, the director Hasan Seyidbeyli shot the film "Nasimi". This monumental movie is dedicated to the life, the creative work and the tragic death of the great Azerbaijani poet and philosopher of the XIV century, Imameddin Nasimi. The film director Tofig Tagizadeh shot the same named film (1977) based on the motives of Azerbaijani epos "Dede Gorgud". The film "Babek" about the legendary leader of the IX century people's liberation movement was shot by Eldar Guliyev (1980). In the films "The tempestuous Kura" by the director Huseyn Seyidzadeh (1969), "Seven sons of mine" by the director Tofig Tagizadeh (1970), "The last mountain pass" by the director Kamil Rustembeyov (1971), which are "historical-revolutionary" genres of that time, the sympathy of the authors of these films to "negative heroes", the revolutionary era can be clearly traced. In some cases significance of their characters even exceed of the significance of characters of the revolutionists themselves. In the final episode of the film "The tempestuous Kura" the hero Djahandar Aga shoots the soldiers of the Tsar's Russia, who boldly occupied his lands. Moscow, accepting all the films produced in our country made the director of the film, Hasan Seyidzadeh, reshoot the finale of the film. And only after this, the film was accepted. So far it has been unclear why the film "Baku lights" by the directors I.Heyfits, A.Zarh, R.Tehmasib, produced in 1950 has not been released, though there were made a number of changes and abridgements to the film. Demonstration of the film "Fatali-khan", shot in 1949, was allowed ten years after the production, and with large abridgements. There were many cases of abridgement and changes  in Azerbaijani film, as all the film production passed through the censorship of the communists both in Baku and in Moscow. The films were reshaped, altered, and re-shot.
In the 80s, the record number of films were produced. They covered all genres of cinematography. They were also distinguished for the diversity of subjects. The more interesting ones are - for children: "You can not take only island" (1980) by the director Gulbeniz Azimzadeh, "Asif, Vasif, Agasif" (1981) by the director Rasim Ismailov, "The music teacher" (1983) by the director Tofig Ismailov; comedies: "The road story" (1981) by the director Teymur Bakirzadeh, "I wanna get married" (1983) by the director Djahangir Mehtiyev, "The kidnapping of fiance" (1985) by the directors Jeyhun Mirzoyev, Vagif Mustafayev; musicals: "Don't afraid,, I'm with you" (1981) by the director Yuliy Gousman, "The seven beauties" (1982 - ballet) by the director F. Slidovker; historical: "Nizami" (1982) by the director Eldar Guliyev, "Golden precipice" (1981) by the director Fikret Aliyev, "Uzeyir's life" (1981) by the director Anar, "Saddle these horses" (1983) by the directors Abdul Mahmudov, Hasanaga Turabov; psychological dramas: "Park" (1983) and "Strange life" (1987) by the director Rasim Odjagov, "A most ordinary story" (1988) by the director Djamil Guliyev; social dramas: "In front of a closed door" (1981) by the director Rasim Odjagov, "Endless night" (1989) by the director Shahmar Alekberov, "The shameless" (1988) by the director Vagif Mustafayev, "The joke" (1989) by the director Yefim Abramov, Nizami Musayev; detectives: "The day after tomorrow at midnight" (1981) by the director Arif Babayev, "An additional trace" (1981) by the director Teymur Bekirzadeh, "The preservation of secret" (1986) by the director Farhad Yusupov, "Devil in front of my eyes" (1988) by the director Ogtay Mirgasimov; films-profiles: "The window of the sadness" (1986) by the director Anar, "I endlessly love you" (1985) by the director Rasim Ismailov, "Wait for a Signal from sea" (1986) by the director Jeyhun Mirzoyev; parable: "Our grandpa's grandpas's grandpa" (1982) by the director Tofig Tagizadeh, "The pain of a bady tooth" (1988) by the director Huseyn Mehdiyev.
The films of this period, "Dissonance" by Teymur Bekirzadeh, "The birthday party" and "Interrogation" by Rasim Odjagov, "You can not take only island" by Gulya Azimzadeh, ""Devil in front of my eyes" by Ogtay Mirgasimov etc. were granted the highest prizes in All-Union film festivals.
The era of perestroika (reconstruction), the 80s, finished up with the independence of former Soviet Republics. Like in other fields, in cinematography as well, the elements of private sector started to appear. The films are shot by resources of entrepreneurs. Film directors open their independent film studios: Rasim Odjagov - the studio "Odjag", Eldar Guliyev - the studio "Gaya Film", Ogtay Mirgasimov - the studio "Yeni Film", Zaur Maherramov - the studio "Yaddash", Fira Kurbanova - the studio "Birlik", Firudin Humbatov - the studio "Metropol" and so on. In 1991, "Vahidbank" Joint Stock Bank founded the studio "Vahid" that roughly developed. They bought modern film equipment and several fiction films started to be produced. But later, as the manager of the Bank was put into custody, the studio fell apart. Actually, in the period from 1990 to 1995, there was no investment of state money (budget) to the cinematography and all films were produced through the money of entrepreneurs. For this period, more than 40 feature films and more than 125 documentaries were produced. The years 1990 and 1991 are the years of the record number of produced films - about 10 feature films and more than 40 documentaries; 90% of financial flow was at the expense of private investments.
The 90s revealed such directors as Ayaz Salayev, Vagif Mustafayev, Huseyn Mehdiyev, Yaver Rzayev, Djamil Guliyev, Shahmar Alekberov, Ramiz Azizbeyli, such scriptwriters as Ramiz Rovshan, Orkhan Fikretoglu, Natig Rasulzadeh, Aydin Dadashev.
The significant films of this period are: "Murder in the night train" (1990) by the director Abdul Mahmudov, "Execution day" (1990) by the director Gulya Azimzadeh and "The Witness" (1990) by the director Huseyn Mehtiyev (in "Universal Bank"). The film "The ring of happiness" (1991) was produced in the studio "Gara Gaya Film" by the director Ramiz Azizbeyli, producer Sadraddin Dashdemirov. The studio "Vahid" produced the film "Gazalkhan" (1991) by the director Shahmar Alekberov, the producer Huseyn Aga Gasimov. The film "Misfit" (1991) by the director Vagif Mustafayev, the producer Vagif Asadullayev; "Cry" (1993) studio "Ashkar film" - by the director Djeyhun Mirzoyev, producer Nazim Abdullayev; "Tahmina" (1993) and "Oh, Istanbul" (1994), the production of the studio "Odjag", by the director Rasim Odjagov, the producer Rasul Guliyev; "Yarasa" (1995) - the production of the studio "Inter Turan", by the director Ayaz Salayev, the producer Saday Ahmedov.
Of the above mentioned films it is worth to point out two: the first is "Ring of happiness" by the director Ramiz Azizbeyli and producer Sadraddin Dashdemirov. It was the first film of independent Azerbaijan, observing all canons of a commercial film. The film attracted such number of viewers that it helped to cover all expenditures of the film production and to get a profit. And the second film by the director Ayaz Salayev and the producer Saday Ahmedov, "Yarasa" was the first "swallow" that took Azerbaijani film to the world arena. The film was awarded "Grand Prix" of Angers Festival (France) and took part in more than 20 International Film Festivals.
In 1996, the film "Strange time" by the director and producer Huseyn Mehdiyev was released. The film was awarded for "The best direction" and "The best young actress" in the I Madrid IFF, and got many other awards in many festivals. In 1997, the film by the director Vagif Mustafayev and by the producer Rafig Guliyev, "All to the best" got award in Oberkhauzen IFF. In 1998, the film "Yellow bride" by the director Yaver Rzayev received American award "Freedom" in IFF in Karlovy Vary and for "The best script" in IFF "Kinoshock".
Obtainment of independence and transition to the market economy, implying democratic and legal relations, not only brought to the establishment and appearance of independent-private studios, but also required the creation of new relations between authors and producers. Therefore, on May 17, 1999, 32 film directors, gathered in the foyer of State Film Fund founded Guild of Professional Film-directors of Azerbaijan. The main objective of this organization is the protection of author's, social and economic rights of audio-visual authors.