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Long before the big blockbusters of the present day, there was a 50 second clip of a train pulling into a station projected on the wall of a Parisian café. In 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumière created a cinematographe, a motion picture camera, printer and projector that was the first of its’ kind. A year later they were credited for holding the first film screening when they debuted their film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. The movie simply depicts a train pulling into the station and passengers disembarking in a continuously moving real-time shot, which seems elementary by today’s standards, but was profound for its time.
Many believe that America is credited as the birthplace of cinema due to Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope. This is actually a misconception because although cinema and film are often used interchangeably in vernacular language, in reality cinema is about the art of cinematography, which is showing films to audiences. Because only one person at a time could view a film through Edison’s invention, while the Lumière brothers were able to invent a machine that could project a film to a larger audience, it is France that earned the credit as the birthplace of cinema.
Since then, France has also been the precursor to many other aspects of film. The first movie theater was in La Ciotat, which screened many of the Lumière brothers’ films. The Eden is still welcoming moviegoers today, making it the oldest operating movie theater. The first film company was created by Léon Gaumont, which is still operating today out of Neuilly-sur-Seine 123 years later. France was also home to Alice-Guy Blaché, the only known female filmmaker in the early years of cinema. She is the first filmmaker to develop narrative films. Before her work, films were just what the Lumière brothers called “actualities”. Actualities were films showing something that was actually happening in reality, such as their debut film. In 1902, George Méliès wrote, directed, and produced A Trip to the Moon, which is regarded as the first science-fiction movie, and a pioneer film for editing and special effects.
The debut of the Cannes Film Festival in the mid-1900s set the precedent of film festivals being part of the global cultural scene. It encouraged the artistic value of films, and has now become the leading platform for filmmakers around the world to present their work. The French New Wave of cinema in the 1950’s associated with French film critic and theorist André Bazin, made major breakthroughs in cinematic theory and philosophy. This movement is credited building upon “auteur theory” viewing role of director as the artistic visionary bringing their aesthetic and narrative ideas to life on screen. Bazin stressed this theory, establishing the position of film director on the same level as writers and other types of artists.
Today, more people go to the movies in France than any other European country. In 2017 alone, over 209 million cinema tickets were sold in France. It is only fitting that cinema would stand the test of time here, considering the country’s major contributions to the development of the industry.