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European Cinema (1895 – 1945)

Europe is regarded as the birthplace of the modern cinema. It was in Paris where the first public cinematographic projection ever took place and from there it spread all over the world. The first filmmakers were the Lumiere brothers, August and Luis, and amongst their first movies, made in 1895, that were ever shown in public were – Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory) and L’Arrive d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (literally the arrival of a train at La Ciotat Station).

Europe is regarded as the birthplace of the modern cinema. It was in Paris where the first public cinematographic projection ever took place and from there it spread all over the world. The first filmmakers were the Lumiere brothers, August and Luis, and amongst their first movies, made in 1895, that were ever shown in public were – Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory) and L’Arrive d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (literally the arrival of a train at La Ciotat Station). These movies were simply the documentary recordings of everyday common life. The first person who saw that the cinematograph provided the possibility to make art-like pictures, and therefore deserves to be called visionary, was Georges Melies (Le voyage dans la lune 1902). Thanks to the cinema he was able to record and to perfect the tricks he had specialized in during his time on the theatre stage.

The first period of the silent cinema was the time of the burlesque shows. In cinemas short comedy movies based on a series of gags achieved their triumphs. The European master of that genre was Max Linder.

The 1920s brought the liveliness of the cinema as well as a variety of styles and forms as in terms of the themes taken. The most interesting and important trends and schools were the German movements – Expressionism and Kammerspiel, Scandinavian Cinema, Soviet Cinema and the French Avant-garde.

The German expressionism was an artistic (not only in cinema) trend based on demonic, Faustic literary myth. Expressionist movies overwhelmed the viewer with claustrophobic, oneiric scenery and dark, imposing moods. The world in the movies was filled with vampires, demonic scientists – charlatans and golems. The most significant movies of the trend were: Der Student von Prag by Stellan Rye (1913), Das Cabinet des dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene (1920), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Graunes by Friedrich W. Murnau (1922) and the most famous of all – Fritz Lang’s Der mude Tod (1921) and Metropolis (1927).
The other current theme born in Germany was Kammerspiel, in which the most important thing was to show the psychological profile and relationships between the characters, often windswept by violent emotions. In these movies the mood of fatalism prevailed, built up by the formal asceticism. The precursor of the current theme was Lupu Pick and his Der Scherben, 1921. One should also mention here Der letze Mann by F.W.Murnau, 1924 and Tagebuch einer Verlorener  by George W.Pabst, 1929.
In the years 1916-1924 in Scandinavia a separate film school on the borderland of mysticism and neo-romanticism evolved. Its internally complicated characters were shown with their dilemmas back dropped by the well-matched scenery. The prominent representatives of that school were Mauritz Stiller, Victor Sjostrom and Julius Jaenzon.
At the same time France was a hatchery to all kinds of cinematic avant-garde, drawing inspiration from paintings and literature. Impressionism was represented by Jean Epstain and Germanie Dulac, dadaism by Rene Clair’s Entr’acte (1924) and surrealism by Luis Bunuel and his Un chien andalou (1928).

During the Soviet cinema of the silent era one should first of all mention Sergei Eisenstein, one of the biggest theorist and directors in cinema history. His propaganda movies of the 1920’s got to be called masterpieces because of his innovative approach to the cinema. Eisenstein specialised in a dynamic editing, for which he contributed the use of counterpoint and analogy. His most important movies were the trilogy:  Staczka (Strike) (1924), Bronienosiec Potiomkin (Battleship Potiomkin) (1925) and (OktiabrOctober) (1928). Besides Eisenstein, another co-creator of  the Soviet editing school is considered to be Wsiewolod Pudowkin. Representating the documentary avant-garde school of that period was Dżiga Wiertow and his leading work Czełowiek s kinoaopparatom (1929).
The 1930’s introduction of sound caused the appearance of new trends and individualities in the art of cinema.
The development of the author’s cinema in France was marked by Jean Vigo, an artist and a rebel, creator of the legendary Zero de conduite (1933). In 1937 Julien Duvivier created Un carnet de bal, a movie of the trend called poetic realism or “black realism”, of which the most prominent representative was Marcel Carne. In the thirties and the forties Carne produced his biggest works (cooperating with his inseparable writer Jacques Prevert) Quasi des Brumes 1938 and Le jour se leve 1939, both of them consequently made in the poetics of “black realism”.
The great individuality in French cinema at that time was Jean Renoir, who was the main character of the realistic school. His most important movies were Le grande illusion (1937) and La regle du jeu (1939).
In Germany under Hitler, the primary output was mostly centered on the production of propaganda type movies which were often produced and directed by the regime’s favourite Leni Riefenstahl. She was shooting her movies on the party’s orders, though pretty interesting stylistically. Two examples were Triumph des Willens (1935), a documentary about NSDAP convention held in Nuremberg and diptych Olympia (1938) about the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936.
During that same time, in England, there worked three outstanding directors: Anthony Asquith (The Browning Version 1951), Carol Reed (The Third Man 1949) and David Lean (Brief Encounter 1945). It was also at the time, in England, that the Hungarian director Alexander Korda made his movies. His best known picture was The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). This was also the time that the documentary school of social subject blossomed. Its most prominent followers were, considered as the father of British documentary, John Grierson as well as Basil Wright, Paul Rotha and Alberto Cavalcanti.

Czech Cinematography – FAMoUs children of Czech(oslovakia)

The heyday of the Czech (or these days Czechoslovakian) cinematography came exceptionally late compared with other European cinematographies. It only began at the beginning of the 1960’s when filmmakers from the Czech film school, also called the Czech New Wave, started creating their works. Only the graduates of the worldwide famous FAMU (FILM AND TV ACADEMY OF PERFORMING ARTS IN PRAGUE), in which i.e. Agnieszka Holland and Emir Kusturica studied, initiated the revival of the Czech cinema.

The very core of “newwavers” was composed of Milos Forman (pictured), Jiri Menzel and Vera Chytilova. Their films have substantial literary foundation in the works of Bohumil Hrabal and Milan Kundera, the most important Czech writers of that time. One of Hrabal’s novels Perlicky na dne (Pearls of the Deep) was screened as five shorts made by debutants: Vera Chytilova, Jan Nemec, Jiri Menzel, Evald Schorm and Jaromir Jires. Perlicky na dne (1963) became the New Wave’s manifesto. Observation of everyday life, often assuming the form of documentary recordings became the most important theme. The directors focused on introspection and psychological truth. Their films mixed a dramatic tone with a warm and friendly approach to a character, all seasoned with a dose of the specific Czech sense of humour and distance to each other. They often casted amateurs too. In the years 1963-68 a few of the all time finest pieces of Czech cinema were made. Jiri Menzel and Milos Forman’s Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Traines) 1966, which was awarded with an Oscar for the best foreign language film), Cerny Petr (1964), Lasky jedne plavovlasky (The Loves of a Blonde) (1965) and Hori ma panenko (The Firemen’s Ball) (1967), for which Forman was awarded with the Golden Lions at the Venice Film Festival which opened the gate for his international career.

Jiri Menzel and Miloś Forman are two of the most respected Czech directors that constitute the New Wave’s core. After the success of his Ostre sledované vlaky in 1969 Menzel adapted another novel by Bohumil Hrabal, Skrivánci na niti  (1969). But the film was only premiered in the year 1990. In the meantime, in 1980 he brought Hrabal’s Postriziny (Cutting It Short) to screen, for which he was awarded with the Special Mention at Venice Film Festival. After the Prague Spring broke out, Forman emmigrated to the United States where he directed many world class masterpieces such as: Hair (1979), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), just to mention few.

Back in Czechoslovakia Ivan Passer shot Intimni osvetleni (1965), while Vera Chytilova was realizing her philosophical and experimental films tinged with a feminist trait (O necem jinem (SOmething Different), 1963 and Sedmikrasky (Daisies), 1966). In 1969 Jaromir Jireś screened Milan Kundera’s Zart (1969), under its original title.

In 1968, after the Warsaw Pact’s armies invaded Czechoslovakia and pacified the Prague Spring, the authorities prohibited the newwavers creating which resulted in a big wave of emigration and general inertia of the creative milieu. Some, like Jiri Menzel stayed in the country, though had to reach a compromise with socialist authorities. For a long time the Czech cinema meant trivial, commercial comedy productions and TV series (Nemocnice na kraji mesta, Arabella).

Not until the 1990’s and the liberation of The Czech Republic from the socialist yoke did the new generation of filmmakers emerge who refreshed the stiff Czech cinema. Firstly, in 1996, Jan Sverak, with his father Zdenek, produced the Oscar-winning film Kolja. Other Sverak’s films are: Obecna skola (The Elementary School) (1991), Jizda (Drive) (1994), Tmavomodry swet (Dark Blue World) (2001). However, the manifesto of this generation, giving one of its best psychological and moral analysis appeared to become Samotari (Loners) (2000) directed by David Ondricek and written by Jan Sverak.

Amogst the youngest generation’s artists, Petr Zelenka gained the biggest recognition with Knoflikari (Buttoners) (1997), Rok dabla (Year of the Devil) (2002) and Pribehy obyczejneho silenstvi  (Wrong Side Up) (2005), all of which mixed bitter satire with warm reflection over the human lot. He is also one of the authors of the script for Samotari. Petr Zelenka is a master of telling about the reality and ordinary problems with a pinch of salt. What could seem as a serious drama, strikes often as tragicomedy in his films.

To the new generation also belongs an inseparable trio: Jan Hrebejk, Petr Jarchovsky and Ondrej Trojan. They made various films together, for example: Pejme pisen dohola (Let’s All Sing Around) (1991) and Musime se pomahac (Divide We Fall) (1999). Saśa Gedeon with his Indianske leto (Indian Summer) (1995) and Nawrat idiota (The Idiot Returns) (1999) should be mentioned too.

A totally separate chapter of Czech cinema is written by Jan Śvankmajer, who creates a kind of author animation. His surreal and fantastic visions stroke as a puppet film Faust (1994), Spiklenci slasti  (Conspirators of Pleasure) (1996), or half-dramatic, half-animated film Otesanek made in the year 2000.

Cinematography of Mexico – the Latin Hollywood

Mexican cinematography began its development in the 1920’s. The first films were mainly documentary newsreels called noticiarios (notices), which showed everyday life in Mexico. Unfortunately many of these films have been lost or destroyed.

It was not long before the production of feature films was to commence. Most of them were melodramas, comedies and adventure films produced by Salvador Toscano Barragan, the Alva brothers and Ezequiel Carrasco following in the fashion of Hollywood and Italian productions. It was at this time when the first Mexican film stars appeared: Dolores del Rio, Lupe Velez and Mimi Derba. After getting their careers started in Mexico they all, eventually, emigrated to the United States to continue their careers. The most important film studio of that time was Azteca Studios which was founded by Mimi Derba.

The 1930’s saw a change in the cinematic landscape of Mexico. The most spectacular herald of these changes appeared to be the visit of the leading Soviet film director, Sergei Eisenstein, who was in Mexico to shoot his film Que Viva Mexico! (1930). Eisenstein’s visit had a great effect on the Mexican filmmakers employed to work in this production. Inspired by their co-operation with one of the greatest directors of the time they were able to transfer the experiences they had learned and utilize them in their native ground.

At the same time the relationship between Latin America and Hollywood grew stronger which resulted in an increasing number of the Spanish-language productions with Latin film cast, which also included Mexican stars. These films were clearly orientated toward the Latin audience. In 1931 first Mexican sound film, Santa, was produced. It was shot by Antonio Moreno and the story was based on the novel of Federico Gamboa. At this point of time in Mexico, as in many other countries, together with sound many new film companies were founded i.e. Produciones Artisticas de Peliculas or Hispano Continental Films.

The 1940’s are called “the golden era” of Mexican cinematography. Mexico went on to become the biggest film producer amongst the Latin American countries, ousting even the Hollywood productions of the home market. The directors of this new generation started to take over and their films were breaking popularity records across the country. At the time there were two currents which were prevalent over others: on the one side there was the cinema which was socially engaged and looking at  the problems of modern Mexico and the other there was the commercial productions. The most famous films of that period were: Flor Silvestre (1942) and Maria Candelaria (1943) directed by Emilio Fernandez and the Ismael Rodriguez trilogy, Nosotros los pobres, Ustedes, los Ricos and Pepe El Toro made in 1953 . Among the biggest Mexican stars of the day one should mention in the first place the comedian Mario Moreno, known as Cantiflas,  also referred to as the “Mexican Charlie Chaplin”, Maria Felix (“La Dona”) and the German Valdes, the legendary “Tin-Tan”, who made the „spanglish” dialect famous. Great popularity was also achieved by the musical films, called Rumberas films, in which both Mexican and Cuban dancers were cast. The leading producer of such movies was Juan Orol, who was also famous for producing the crime stories patterned upon the American film noir (e.g. Gangsters contra charros 1948).

The 1940’s and 50’s was highlighted by the career of  Luis Bunuel’s, who had immigrated to Mexico from Spain. During this time he produced the most important of his films: Los Olvidados (1950), Ensayo de un crimen (1955), Nazarin (1958), Viridiana (1961).

By the 1960’s new currents in the Mexican cinematography had emerged. A whole new generation of the directors such as Arturo Ripstein (El castillo de la pureza 1973), Luis Alcoriza (Fe, esperanza y Caridad 1974), Felipe Cazals (Las poquianchis and El Apando both from 1976) and Jorge Fons (Los cachorros 1973) were creating the New Wave („de la nueva ola”). The majority of these filmmakers were fashioned by working alongside Bunuel, who had a great impact on them. The formation of the  Film Centre under, the auspices of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 1963, is regarded as having no less an impact on the change in the Mexican cinema. Along with the Third Cinema appeared the tendency to draw from the traditions of the magic realism in order to get to the roots of Latin civilization and culture. Experimental films on the borderland of many arts were created during this time, with the most famous of Mexican experimentalists being Alejandro Jodorowsky. This artist, born in Chile in the 1960’s, settled in Mexico where the most important of his films were created. His avant-garde works combining experiments taken from many different arts such as: the theatre, mime shows and film resulted in the surreal productions Fando y Lis (1968), El Topo (1970) and Santa Sangre (1989).

The 1990’s finally saw Mexican cinematography gain international acclaim. Nuevo Cine Mexicano is the generation of filmmakers that has been awarded in many film festivals across the globe and has created a wealth of film talent. This new breed of filmmakers have gained the recognition of the mass audience and have been successfully making films around the world. Amongst the most famous ones are two Alfonsos’: Arau and his Como agua para chocolate 1992, A Walk In The Clouds 1995 and Zapata – El Sueno del Heroe 2004 and Alfonso Cuaron, the director of Solo con tu pareja 1991, Cronos 1993, Great Expectations 1998, Y tu mama tambien (2001) and the third installment of the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004. Other great filmmakers within the modern Mexican cinema are: Luis Mandoki’s Gaby: A True Story 1987, White Palace 1990 and Trapped 2002 along with Arturo Ripstein, a student of Bunuel and the author of the masterful screen adaptations of Latin prose such as: Principio y Fin, 1993 or El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, 1999 and Jorge Fons, whose film El Callejon de los Milagros, 1995 is doubtlessly one of the most important films in the whole history of Mexican cinematography.

The first decade of the 21st century has belonged, so to speak, to two names: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro.

Inarritu, together with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, have created three films, all very highly rated and frequently awarded at the different festivals all over the world: Amores Perros, 2000, 21 Grams, 2003 and Babel, 2006.

Del Toro, a specialist in horror and fantasy films, is well known for creating very vivid and visually dazzling imaginary worlds. His adaptation of the comic book series Hellboy, 2004 was only an prelude to his best picture so far El Laberinto del Fauno, 2006. This story set during the time of General Franco’s dictatorship, interwoven with fantastical threads, it was nominated to the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film. The second Hellboy film: Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 2008 and the horror film El Orfanato, 2007, produced by del Toro and directed by the Spaniard Juan Antonio Bayona established del Toro is a true visionary. It was perhaps the main reason that he was chosen to direct. probably the most anticipated film of the near future: The Hobbit.

Apart from the above  without a doubt  worthy of mention are also the black humor comedy Nicotina, 2002 by Hugo Rodriguez; the historical drama set in the times of Indian rebellions El Violin, 2005 by Francisco Vargas and Fernando Eimbcke’s Lake Tahoe, 2008, the metaphorical story of a young Mexican boy’s ordinary day.

The biggest stars, of the modern era, to have hailed from Mexico are: Salma Hayek, Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio del Toro. Hayek, a star of Robert Rodriguez’ films Desperado, 1995 and From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996 starred in Julie Taymor’s Frida in 2002. The title role of Frida Kahlo in the movie produced by herself brought her many awards and her only nomination so far for the Oscar. Gael Garcia Bernal started as a favourite actor of A.G. Inarritu who cast him in Amores Perros, which started Bernal’s international career and in Babel. In the meantime he was cast by the biggest directors of our time such as: Pedro Almodovar (La mala educacion, 2004), Walter Salles (Diarios de motocicleta, 2004) or Fernando Meirelles (Blindness, 2008). Benicio del Toro, born in Puerto Rico is frequently associated with the Mexican cinematography and the parts of charismatic Latin Americans. He established this status by starring in: Traffic, 2000 and Che-El argentino, 2008 both by Steven Soderbergh, Snatch, 2000, by Guy Ritchie, and Inarritu’s 21 Grams, 2003.

 

Cinematography of Ireland – difficult history, important movies

The history of Irish cinematography is closely connected with the history of the country which, above all else, is the history of the constant battle for independence and national, political and cultural identity.

The history of Irish cinematography is closely connected with the history of the country which, above all else, is the history of the constant battle for independence and national, political and cultural identity. Ireland, pushed aside for a long time as Europe’s backwater and remaining in the shade of the British Empire, could only begin to raise itself once it had achieved its independence. The cinematography of Ireland is a reflection of these changes.

The first feature film, which was silent, The Lad of Old Ireland, was produced in 1910 by the American Sidney Olcott and was the typical emigrant story about a young man forced by economical conditions to search for his fortune overseas. It was pretty successful in the USA because of very popular theme of the day regarding emigration to United States – the Promised Land for newcomers from the Old Continent. Kalem, the company created in Killarney, specialized in such productions and by the 1920’s had almost serialized emigrant sagas. In 1916 James Mark Sullivan founded The Film Company of Ireland in Dublin. The company produced mainly melodramas, comedies and history movies telling about the Irish battle for independence. In 1918, Sullivan directed Knocknagow, which received acclaim from abroad as being the Irish reply to The Birth of Nation by D.W.Griffith.

Soon after Ireland gained independence and the Irish Free State was proclaimed, the Censorship of Films Act was resolved (1923) in order to control the content in both national and foreign movies, particularly from the catholic and republican point of view. The most important movies of that time looked at the subject of the battle for independence. Amongst these belong Guests of the Nation (1935) by Denis Johnson, The Dawn (1936) by Thomas Cooper and international productions from the American John Ford The Informer (1935) and the Briton Robert Flaherty Man of Aran (1935).

During the Second World War Ireland remained neutral. Its main concern was to rebuild its own national identity and to develop its historical and cultural continuity. In 1943 a National Film Institute was founded, a government body working under the auspices of the Pope, financing mainly documentaries designed for distribution abroad. The purpose of these movies’ was to show an Independent Ireland as a country in which battle for independence closely interlocks with battle to defend Catholic Church laws. In 1945, on government order, the propaganda documentary A Nation Once Again was produced, showing the relationship between Catholicism and the policies of Ireland.

The revival of Irish cinema came in the late 1950’s. In 1958, the production company Ardmore Studios was created, which coincided with a change of political course and progressive movements in Ireland. It was all in an effort to move away from the republican-catholic tradition. One of the signs of this new tendency was a documentary, made by the Irish journalist Peter Lennon, Rocky Road to Dublin (1960) in which he radically attacked the previous policies of the Irish government and church institutions holding them responsible for the stagnation and underdevelopment of the country. The movie was even shown at the Cannes International Film Festival. Another important documentary, Flea, equally accusatory, was shot by Luis Marcus in 1967. The movie won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1975 the first picture of the Irish New Wave was made, directed by Bob Quinn, titled Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoire, and based on a traditional Irish poem, took up the subject of national identity. This movie propelled Bob Quinn to became one of the most prominent Irish indie directors. Another movie made by Quinn at that time was Poitin (1978), where he looked at the violence within a family. A characteristic of Irish movies of the New Wave was that they were taken from often difficult and current subjects, particularly for the mainly catholic Ireland, such as: homosexuality, sexual abuse, violence. Besides Quinn, the New Wave was co-created by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, Pat Murphy, Kieron Hickey and Joe Comerford, who were the leading Irish directors of 70’s and 80’s. Thaddeus O’Sullivan shot the experimental movies A Pint of Plan (1977), On a Paving Stone Mounted (1977) and The Woman Who Married Clark Gable (1980) and Joe Comerford created Down the Corner (1977) and Withdrawal (1979) both about taking real social problems in modern times, leading him to make deeply reflexive movies such as Reefer and the Model (1985).

In 1981 Comerford shot Traveler, a movie to the script written by Neil Jordan, who then just started on the road to his big career. Neil Jordan together with Jim Sheridan and Pat O’Connor constituted a group of filmmakers which made Irish cinematography famous in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. Cal, the movie made by O’Connor in 1984 about love flourishing between the british-irish barricades, was a big success all over the world and got a nomination for the Golden d’Or in Cannes. For his next movie A Month In the Country (1987) O’Connor hired Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.

In the 1980’s Neil Jordan, probably the best known Irish director, produced the adult fantasy Company of Wolves (1984), the psychological drama Mona Lisa (1986) and the comedy High spiritus (1988), all produced in Ireland. After that, like many other Irishmen, not only filmmakers, he started working abroad.

The year 1989 Jim Sheridan produced My Left Foot, the movie that began boom for Irish cinema. The biographic story about a physically challenged artist gave Oscars to both protagonists Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker. Daniel Day-Lewis quickly became Sheridan’s favourite actor and was cast in his other famous movies: In the Name of the Father (1993), the story of Gerry Conlon, imprisoned for terrorist acts he didn’t commit and Boxer (1997), a movie about Danny Flynn, ex-IRA soldier, trying to put his life together after he’s released from prison.

The 1990’s saw Ireland produce films that were to become instant cult movies, and as such watched by millions. To these belong: The Commitments (1991) by Briton Alan Parker, the story of a rock band from the Dublin suburbs; The Crying Game (1992), Michael Collins (1996) and The Butcher Boy (1997) by Neil Jordan, considered to be the most important Irish movies of the end of the twentieth century. At the same time in Ireland two huge international productions were shot: Braveheart (1995) directed by Mel Gibson and Saving Private Ryan (1998) by Steven Spielberg.

Over the last couple years one can identify a greater interest in Ireland’s history. The attempt of a new look at the Ireland’s past was a para-documentary drama by the British director Paul Greengrass Bloody Sunday (2002), about the massacre during the riots in Northern Ireland in 1972. Another revisionist movie, awarded with the Golden d’Or in Cannes, was Wind That Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach, in which he showed the dramatic choices that IRA combatants faced because of the division of the country. Interesting thing is that the most insightful movies about Ireland history are shot by the Britons who were considered to be the biggest Irish concern over the years and caused most of the problems to the Irishmen. It’s like the Britons feel obliged to count up their common historical affairs to be able to come to terms with it.

Special notice should be also paid to Once, a small production made by Irishman John Carney in 2006. This classic love story set in Dublin gained great sympathy amongst the audience worldwide and the music from the movie was awarded with the Oscar.

Cinematography of China – the cultural (r)evolution

The history of Chinese cinematography first started in 1905. It was the year when the opera The Battle of Dingjunshan, staged successfully at the Beijing Opera, was recorded for the very first time.

The centre of Chinese film, at the time, was Shanghai, where the first movie theatre was built in 1908. During the 1920s the first movie production companies, based exclusively on the native capital, were founded in Shanghai. One of them was Mingxing Film Company founded by Zheng Zhengqiu and Zhang Shichuan. Its biggest hits were Zhang Xinsheng (1922) and Orphan Rescues Grandfather (1923), both made by Zhang Shichuan. The films produced at that time were mostly melodramas, family dramas and screen versions of Chinese legends.

The situation in the whole country and, therefore, also in the Chinese cinematography changed in 1927 when Kuomintang came to power in the country. The main subject, of the films, became the class warfare and the awakening of the Chinese national spirit against the foreign menace. Moreover it was also the time when sound first appeared in the cinema, which complicated film production and decentralized the film business. The Cantonese speaking directors moved to Hong Kong which has been a mainstay for the commercial cinema, independent from the government’s dictate ever since.  The directors creating in Mandarin, the official language stayed within the circle of the official authorities and their directives. The national socialistic movement brought such movies as: Spring Silkworms/Chun can (1933) and To the Northwest/Dao xi bei qu (1934) by Bugao Cheng or Goddess/Shen nu (1934) by Wu Yonggang.

The years 1933-1937 are called the first „golden era” of Chinese cinema. Shanghai, the capital city of the Chinese film industry was also the leader of its film production. Many actors gained the status of a film star (Ruan LingyuHu DieJin Yan). The greatest Chinese directors of that time were Mu-jih Yuan (Street Girl/Malu tianshi 1934) and Wancang Bu (A Spray of Plum Blossoms/ Yi jian mei 1931).
One of the main factors at that time (1931 – 1945) was the Japanese occupation of China. However it didn’t prevent Chinese filmmakers from making films, though many of them escaped to Hong Kong. Amongst those who stayed on the Solitary Island, as Shanghai was called in the late 1930’s, the nationalistic mood intensified and the works of filmmakers were a response to the Japanese dictatorship. It was then when the Lianhua Film Company was founded, one of the most import ant film companies of the 1940’s. Classics such as: Spring and Sparrows/Wuya yu maque (1949) by Junli Zheng and The Spring River Flows East/Yi jiang chun shui xiang dong liu (1947) by Chusheng Cai and Junli Zheng were produced there. Considered as one of the most important Chinese films ever made Spring in a Small Town/Xiao cheng zhi chun (1948), directed by Fei Mu, was the last „apolitical” film before the communists took over.

In 1949 the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed under the leadership of Mao Zedong. The country split into three separate states: the PRC, Taipei and Hong Kong. The cinema in the PRC became one of the propaganda tools. Independent production was eliminated and influx of foreign films was severely restricted. Once the communist party took control of both the mass media and the cinematography they started to speak only the language of the legal authorities. War films and adaptations of classic Chinese operas and novels became the dominate genres. One of them was The Tragic Story of Shanbo Liang and Yingtai Zhu/Liang Zhu hen shi ( (1958) directed by Tie Li, a film, which got to the canon of Chinese cinematography.

In 1956 the Bejing Film Academy was founded. Many excellent filmmakers graduated from it and gained worldwide recognition and regard. Before it happened though, China experienced the biggest cultural collapse in its history. The Cultural Revolution swept across the country and ruined both the economy and the culture. Many people of science and culture were imprisoned in the labour camps and many works of art were destroyed en mass. During this period the cinematography came to a standstill for many years, and watching films was strictly forbidden.

The early part of the 1980’s brought a change. The artists, the ones who had survived, were freed and the Bejing Film Academy, closed during the Cultural Revolution, was opened again. The post-revolutionary film landscape was co-created by two generations of filmmakers. The older ones who had started before the Revolution and were forced to fall silent for several years, such as: Wu Yonggang and Wu Yigong, directors of Evening Rain/Ba Shan Ye Yu 1980 as well as Xie Jin, the director of Legend of Tianyun Mountain/Tian yun shan chuan qi 1980 and Hibiscus Town/Fu rong zhen 1986 and the young generation who had graduated from the Bejing Film Academy in 1982 and is called the Fifth Generation of Chinese directors. Thanks to them Chinese cinema crossed the borders and gained worldwide fame and renown. The most prominent of them are certainly Zhang YimouChen KaigeZhuangzhuang Tian and Zhang Junzhao.

The Fifth Generation filmmakers contributed to creating a new quality within the Chinese cinema. Their artistically sophisticated films rejected standing conventions and were the attempts of settling accounts with the past. Perhaps because of this many of these films were not permitted to be distibuted. However they were highly regarded at the international film festivals. Chen Kaige made Yellow Earth/Huang tu di (1984), for which he was awarded with the Silver Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival. This incident began the triumphant procession of Chinese cinema abroad. Kaige created the masterpieces of  Ba wang bie ji/Farewell My Concubine (1993) and Jing Ke ci Qin Wang/The Emperor and the Assassin (1998). The dramatic fresco Farewell My Concubine tells the story of the emotional relationship between two actors of the Chinese opera, linked with the stage parts of a king and his concubine. The story is said against a background of the 50 years of Chinese history. In 1993 the film was awarded with the Golden d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival ex aequo with The Piano by Jane Campion.

Zhang Yimou grew into the mega star of Chinese cinematography. His film output consists of Hong gao liang/Red Sorghum (1987), Da hong deng long gao gao gua/Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao/Shanghai Triad (1995), Ying xiong/Hero (2002), Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). Thanks to a long-term collaboration with him Gong Li became the biggest acting star of modern Chinese cinema, whilst others Jet LiMaggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi became immensely popular, both in China and abroad.

Over the last years the audience has taken a particular liking to wuxia pian films referring to the very popular, in China, kung-fu mythology. The stories tell of fearless and perfect sword masters and their adventures. Sword fighting is viewed as a carrier of a philosophy and a way of living. The most well known Chinese wuxia films are Ying xiong/Hero (2002) and Shi mian mai fu/House of Flying Daggers (2004) by Zhang Yimou as well as Wu ji/The Promise (2005) by Chen Kaige.

The youngest generation of the Chinese filmmakers grew up in the new reality, both politically and economically. As capitalism reached China with all its worries and problems and the people began to slowly forget about the time of ruthless communist dictatorship. New independent film companies were founded, in which young filmmakers started making films criticizing the new social relations and showing the Chinese reality, behind the back of censorship.

One of these filmmakers is Zhang Ke Jia, a director of moving social dramas like: Xiao Wu/Pickpocket (1997) showing the Chinese country from the point of view of a petty thief; Sanxia haoren/Still Life (2006) about the erection of the Three Gorges Dam; or Shijie/The World (2004) about the provincial workers thrown into the metropolitan crucible. Zhang Ke Jia’s contemporary is Quanan Wang, a director of the loud film Tuya de hun shi/Tuya’s Marriage (2006), for which he was awarded with the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and of Fang zhi gu niang/Weaving Girl (2009) a moving drama of a woman dying of cancer. The other directors of this generation called the Sixth (or even the Seventh) are Guo XiaoluAnn Hui and Chuan Lu. Lu directed i.a. the loud war drama Nanjing!Nanjing!/City of Life and Death (2009).