The cinema arrived in Brazil a short six months after Auguste Lumière first revealed his cinématographe in Paris. The first session of what was called the omniographo took place on July 8, 1896, in a room on Rio de Janeiro's fashionable Rua do Ouvidor. Although it is not known who imported the first projector, the little evidence available suggests that the omniographo was the name given locally to Lumière's invention.1 Rio de Janeiro had already seen Edison's kinetoscope, but the omniographo had a much greater impact, since it projected an image on a wall or screen for viewing by large numbers of spectators, whereas the kinetoscope's image could be seen by only one person at a time.
Just as the owner of the first omniographo is unknown, so too is it unknown precisely what film or films were exhibited that day. One thing, however, is certain: Neither the films nor the projector was Brazilian. Consistent with the country's economic situation in general, technological and economic dependence marked the underdevelopment of the Brazilian film industry from its very inception. Brazil's dependency has been largely responsible for the underdevelopment of its national film industry. By the second decade of this century, foreign cinemas had established firm control of the Brazilian film market, leaving little space for the national product. Without full access to the admittedly limited domestic market, the film industry has been unable to achieve adequate returns on investments. Consequently, the process of capital accumulation within the industry has been stifled, and continuous production has been difficult. The result has been a chronic lack of continuity within the industry, which frequently developed in isolated and short-lived cycles, often far from the country's major metropolitan centers and, consequently, far from the limited market that has in fact existed. Technologically speaking, Brazilian cinema has had to play a perennial game of catch-up, since virtually all equipment used in film production, including raw film stock, has had to be imported.