Cinematography of Azerbaijan: The Origin of the Movie in Azerbaijan
December 2000, the former President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev signed a decree proclaiming August 2 a professional holiday of filmmakers of Azerbaijan. We have used to consider the day of the establishment of Azerbaijani cinema as 2 August 1898, when the Jewish-originated photographer –Alexander Mishon, designed the first movie in Azerbaijan , using the cinema of the Lumiere brothers
Up until recent years, film historians thought the first movie produced in Azerbaijan dated back to 1916 with the movie titled “In the Realm of Oil and Millions”. The plot was based on the actions of the then-famous novel by Ibrahim Musabeyov: a group of men persuades the local population that they are actually very rich and everyone can become a millionaire (hidden subtext, which said that the Tsar’s power leaves the people only the opportunity to dream about living abundantly, instead of providing real opportunities).
Years pass, and famous Azerbaijani movie maker Aydin Kazimzade revealed that the real date of the first movie is not 1916, but 1998. This fact could justify that Azerbaijan was one of the firsts in the development of cinema.
Alexander Mishon moved to Baku in 1884 from his native town – Kharkov. He was one of the foreigners who settled in Baku during the Second Oil Boom, as majority of foreigners during that time. Here, he decided to take up photography in his own studio, continuing the path of his father, who was a photographer.
The workshop opened later, in 1887, on Torgovaya Street (now Nizami Street of Baku). Thanks to this, Michon had the opportunity to professionally engage in the work of a life that would make him more famous. For his work, he was awarded with a medal of the Imperial Russian Technical Society, and has also received awards at the photo exhibition in St. Petersburg.
It was Alexander Mishon who has achieved the creation of the Baku Photographic Course, which both women and men could join. Given the difficult situation of the Muslim women’s population in Azerbaijan, this seemed truly something unbelievable and even impossible.
The first films showed what the country was filled to the full: oil. Oil fields, the hard work of Baku oil workers and even eruptions of oil field points were captured on film cameras. The earliest work is the 30-second documentary “Fire on the Bibi Heybat” of 1898, by Alexander Mishon. In 1900, the work of the photographer was honored to be represented at the Paris International Exhibition.
Azerbaijani films, shot for 122 years, were most often based on historical events, as well as tragedies and comedies from the pages of works to the cinema. A distinctive feature of Azerbaijani films was the importance of showing traditions (frames of wedding customs), national dances and folk songs. No less important was the inspiration of the people with the help of patriotic elements in cinematic products in different periods.
In 1920, the chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, Nariman Narimanov, signed a decree on the nationalization of Azerbaijani cinema. The People’s Commissariat for Education and the Ministry of Culture created an art section led by Hanafi Teregulov and Muslim Magomayev.
And in 1922, the Azerbaijani government decided to build the first cinema. As expected, all movies had been passing a strictly control. A new era started in the history of Azerbaijani cinema – the period when Soviet power and the regime, but not a private enterprise, dominated the selection and creation of a product for the people.
Vladimir Lenin once said: “… among all arts, cinema is the most important for us,” since it can be called a copy of life, because cinema really reflects the reality of what was happening and what is happening … Recalling the description of Baku by Sergei Yesenin, the importance of photographic circles indicated in a few paragraphs above finds its explanation: women walked in their veils, avoided passers-by, they were not even allowed to show the wanderer the way and generally engage in any discussions or conversations.
Because of that, a woman could not perform on the stage of the theater and even more so act in films. In 1916, a movie was made based on the comedy play of the great Uzeyir Hajibeyov – Arshin Mal Alan. However,the main female roles were performed by men.
This was not effective, and the founder of the first opera in the whole East (Leyli and Majnun, 1907), U.Hajibeyov, who was the author of this play, was unsatisfied and strictly againstsuch fenomenon. Alas, the invited actresses from Russia still failed to play and convey the softness and tenderness of Azerbaijani women.
Fortunately, years passing, the number of films grew, in which ridiculed then widespread deviations from Islam, which were blindly adhered to by many who did not understand the essence and who did not accept the correct interpretation of the Holy Book.
Especially, this was reflected in the works of the 1920s. Films, through which people were transmitted through explicit images and references fighting against religious fanaticism, gave rise to a new look and fresh breath on the development of culture in society and the long-awaited transformations. Those are Bismillah (1925), Sevil (1929), House over the Volcano (1929), Haji Gara (1929).
This, finally, led to the fact that Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s dream became true, and the roles of Gulchokhra and Jahan (the main characters of the play) in the eponymous film (“Arshin Mal Alan” of 1945) were played by unique and talented Azerbaijani women – the first was played by Leyli Badirbeyli, and the second by Minavar Calantarli. The film became widely known and became popular far beyond the borders of Azerbaijan.
The patriotic spirit of the people was fed by films related to military subjects. Films such as “Bakhtiyar” (1941), “Son of the Motherland” (1942), “Caspians” (1944), “Our teacher Jabish” (1970) have become one of the most watched and discussed even nowadays.Tags:Alexander Mishon, Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani movies, Cinema, Cinematography