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First Screenings and Cinemas

First Screenings and Cinemas
The first demonstration of “kinomatograph” or live cinematography in Bulgaria, took place on December 11th 1896 in the cafeteria of the Sofia Hotel “Bulgaria”. This event occured only a year after the world’s first screening of the Lumière Brothers in Paris. There are already indisputable facts to this effect in periodical publications from the late 19th Century.

This unique event in the capital City has attracted a huge number of people wishing to see the five-chronicle documentaries “images from the life”, which were “very-well presented by the cinematographer”.

The second screening in Sofia was held in March 1897 in the “Pilsen Pub” at the “Dondukov” Avenue. The traveling cinema quickly earned enthusiastic fans, which opened a new niche for entrepreneurs in the construction business and the City administration to build theatres with better conditions for the fans of this new art.

In 1908, one of the first cinemas in Europe – the “Modern Theatre” was built. The press reflected the event in the following publication: [The Sofia “Modern Theatre” is now open, where exhausted citizens wandering around can find a seat to rest every hour for 30-40 cents. Enjoy!] The movie theatre could accommodate about 400 spectators – 72 balcony seats, 10 boxes, and 280 seats in the stalls.

A year later, in 1909, the “Modern Theatre” becomes the “Pathé Frères” representative for Bulgaria and Macedonia. Its activities include the rental of cinematographic equipment and films, and the technical installation of the apparatus in other movie theatres in the Country. The “Modern Theatre” also funded and established the first Bulgarian newsreel movies. The unpredicted years of success of the movie theatre encouraged its owners to invest further funds in the refurbishment of its architectural appearance, and increase its seating capacity. In 1914, the “Modern Theatre” provided funds to make the first Bulgarian feature film “Bulgaran is Gallant”, with the then prominent actor Vasil Gendov starring in the main role. The film was screened to the public at the beginning of 1915. An original copy of this film is not preserved, but a remake with detailed descriptions is available HERE.

In 1910, another movie theatre “Odeon” opens its doors. It became the main competitor of the “Modern Theatre”. Both movie theatres in competition, created the first publicity billboards, the first orchestras accompanying silent films (in “Odeon” the orchestra is led by young Panayot Pipkov), and the first documentaries.

As such, the big movie theatres in Sofia in 1912 were four – The “Modern Theatre”, the “Odeon”, the “Gradsko Casino”, and the “New America”. Interesting information on cinema theatres in Sofia could also be found in the foreign press at the time. An article in the British magazine The Cinema – Cinema News and Property Gazette read: “…movie theatres are allegedly booming and gaining increased popularity in Sofia”. The large cinemas in town are offering four screenings on weekdays, and nine on Sundays. Each lasts an hour and a half, and the total length of the screened film reel varied between 1,700 and 1,800 meters. The programme is changed three times a week, and has titles of such famous brands as “Vitagraf” [Vitagraph], “Lubin” [Lubin], “Nordisk”, “Italy” [Itala], “Ambrosio” [Ambrosio], “Pathé”, ”Gaumont” and “Eclair”. The films offer a variety of themes and genres – from travel and natural landmarks to historical, dramatic and comedy plots. The hall of “Modern Theatre” is fully booked for almost all the performances. It also had an orchestra consisting of a ten-member musician with different instruments. The theatre has three large lounges, serving as waiting rooms, and there are ten emergency exits. The film projectors were of the brand “Pathé”. They were located in fireproof premises, and protected within cemented iron walls jutted out into the main theatre. The screen size is 8 x 5 meters, and with the normal length of the cam.

All theatres are decorated differently, but with a prevailing modernist style or the so-called “Art Nouveau”. The facade of the “Modern Theatre” appears markedly Russian, while those of “New America” and “Odeon” had rather an Italian style. The theatre “New America” accommodating 1,200 spectators consists of a large ground floor hall and a café with tables surrounded by two rows of boxes and a lobby. It also has an outdoor garden where screenings are held during the summer.

Cinema “Odeon” can accommodate 1,000 spectators, and has an exquisitely decorated hall, with a ground floor of rows of seats and balconies with boxes above and along the three walls. The top balcony seats were cheapest.

The “Gradsko Casino” had a restaurant for lunch and dinner. It offered a wide variety in terms of both music and entertainment. During the winter months, two screenings are offered here every evening.

Many smaller theatres are generally located in outdoor cafes with no access restrictions. The international titles of films were in German, Bulgarian, French, and English.

Later on, the theatres “Metropol”, “Bulgaria”, “Phoenix”, “Theatre Patchev” and “Balkan” were established. To attract even more viewers, their owners started to shoot documentaries showing everyday life in the Capital streets. Gradually, the idea and the production of feature films became fact. The year 1915 is recognised as the birth year of the Bulgarian feature film when the screening of the first Bulgarian feature film “Bulgaran is Gallant” took place.

In preparing the page material from studies of film researchers Kardjilov P., A. Grozev, A. Alexandrov were used

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