Early film activity

The first public film performance in the territory of Slovakia took place less than a year after the Lumière brothers held their historic first public screening of projected motion pictures in Paris.
At that time Slovakia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Historical sources state that the first public screening of cinematography in the territory of Austria-Hungary took place in Vienna on 27 March 1896 and that Emperor Franz Josef I attended a show on 17 April 1896. Budapest and Prague soon followed in Vienna’s footsteps and ‘animated photographs’ from the Vienna Cinematographic Company were first shown on the territory of Slovakia on 19 December 1896 in Košice. Bratislava’s first screening followed on 25 December 1896 with two cinematographic performances of short Lumière films. These first film shows were successful with spectators, and screenings were soon presented in other Slovak towns. Before long French and American films were being shown regularly all over the country, in public halls, theatres and even outdoors.
The first permanent cinema – Electro Bioscop – was established in Slovakia in 1905 in Bratislava’s U zeleného stromu Hotel. In 1913 it moved to a building in the centre of town where it still exists today as the oldest operating cinema in Slovakia (Mladosť). More permanent cinemas were subsequently opened in Bratislava and in other Slovak towns. By the end of World War I almost 100 permanent cinemas were operating in the territory of Slovakia and film had become a natural part of the cultural life of the population.
By 1918 several distribution companies had been established in Austria-Hungary. In addition to the branch offices of foreign companies such as Gaumont or Pathé Fréres, a number of Hungarian companies set up operations in Budapest. A curiosity of this period was the operation of the Budapest film exchange whereby the distribution companies dictated the film programmes on offer in the cinemas. In this way the modern system of film distribution involving distribution companies and a network of permanent cinemas began to develop.
In contrast to the film distribution system, film production in Slovak territory prior to 1918 was sporadic. Prior to the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic, this involved mainly the making of short newsreels for film production companies in Budapest or other towns of the Empire. Several short Hungarian films shot in the territory of Slovakia have been preserved as important records of lifestyle and events during this period.
The earliest independent film productions shot in the territory of Slovakia involved mainly businessmen, cinema owners and film enthusiasts. Dating from 1905, the pioneering work of Alexander Lifka was especially noteworthy; he made several short films for the Hungarian Scientific Society Urania, which played an important role in the development of cinematography in Hungary. Fragments of film shot by photographer Eduard Schreiber, son of the Lednické Rovne glassworks owner, have also been preserved. Schreiber initially shot short family films, but in 1910 he made the short feature film Únos (‘The Kidnapping’), from which several scenes have been preserved. However, Schreiber did not publicly screen his films and the surviving fragments of his work have been viewed as the beginnings of individual amateur film production in the territory of Slovakia. As such it can be said that prior to 1918 there were almost no conditions conducive to the development of professional film production in Slovakia.