The first public showings of moving pictures in Hungary coincided with the nation's 1896 millennial celebration of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin. The festivities commemorating the nation's economic, scientific, and cultural achievements included a Millenary Exhibition that displayed the technical wonders of an industrializing world, Edison's kinetoscope among them. Some of the earliest film footage shot in Hungary was that of Emperor Franz Joseph opening the exhibition. While Hungarians were justifiably proud of their accomplishment, the organizers of the festivities, as well as public officials and the press, overplayed their pride, using the millennium to popularize the illusion of a powerful Hungarian Empire and to divert attention from domestic unrest.1 Hungary had finally achieved a measure of independence from the Habsburgs with the compromise of 1867, which established the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but Austria was the dominant partner in the alliance.
Moreover, the compromise actually worsened the living and working conditions for the average Hungarian. The Hungarian ruling class was given the authority to deal with the state's internal affairs, and they used this power to suppress growing discontent among national minorities as well as the lower classes.2 In the period leading up to World War I, national minorities constituted over 50 percent of the population but held only 8 seats in the 421-member Hungarian parliament. About 4,000 people out of a population of 18 million owned over half the land, and more than 5.5 million people owned no land at all.3 Thus, at a time when the elite were celebrating the millennium through balls, parades, and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Romanians, Slovakians, Croatians, Serbs, and Slovenes were pressing for political and cultural self-determination, and both urban workers and rural peasants were agitating for a more equitable economic order.
This is the backdrop against which the Hungarian film industry evolved. As a highly public and ideologically charged form of expression, film in Hun