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Azerbaijani cinema

Azerbaijani cinema

Located in the Caucasus Azerbaijan has rich cultural traditions and influences spanning across all its art expressions including cinema. With Muslim, Arab, Russian and Eastern Europe influences, Azerbaijan cinema has been one of the most prolific and developed in the region, even getting to win an Oscar Award in 1995 with Burnt by the Sun.

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Alexandre Michon

The oil rush

But the story begins about a century earlier than the Oscar, few years after the Lumiere brothers surprised the world with their innovative motion pictures recording device. It all began in the Caucasian ‘oil-paradise’ in 1898 when the first newsreels were recorded by a Russian entrepreneur from French family called Alexandre Michon, who attracted by the oil fever in the country decided to set up a photo studio and document oil extraction and Azerbaijani society. Fire of the Bibi Heybat Oil Gusher and Oil Gusher in Balakhany, were among the first productions of the country.

Censorship

Years later, in the first decade of the 20th century, were other foreigners who kept developing the novel industry in the county. The Belgian Pirone brothers –also attracted by the rumors of money and oil- established a small studio in Baku and invited foreign directors and actors to start filming in the country. From their studio, the foremost films were directed by the Russian Boris Svetlov who led Azerbajani cinema symbols like The Woman and In the Realm of Oil and Millions.

Those days, the film plots dealt with oil regards mainly supported and funded by oil tycoons. But the story changed in 1919 when the communist established the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan and the cinema industry was nationalized. Then, the stories changed to depict the fight against ignorance and illiteracy and the revolution.

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Arshin takes a wife

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Burnt by the sun

The cinema in the country remained dealing with the same topics over and over until the end of the Soviet regime in 1991. With few exceptions all films were a glorification of communism and its leaders, but some few dared to produce different ideas like Nikolai Leshchenko’s Arshin Takes a Wife (1945). The film, based on a comic opera and depicted a bourgeois society, is said to pass the Moscow ban just because Stalin liked it.

Time for success

After the fall of the USSR, Azerbaijan cinema had again freedom of themes to deal with, often showing the new perspective of the free-market life.

The proudest moment in Azerbaijan cinema history came in 1995 when the director Rustam Ibrahimbeyov won an Academy Award for the screenplay of Burnt by the Sun a film awarded as Best Foreign Film.

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