The beginnings and subsequent development of cinematography in the countries of east central Europe share a number of common features. In what are now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Poland (then partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia) the first Lumière film shows took place in 1896, in keen competition with entrepreneurs using the apparatus of Thomas Alva Edison. 'Edison's men' arrived in Prague five days before Eugène Dupont, the representative of the Lumière brothers. The Lumière Cinématographe was first exhibited in Belgrade in May 1896, and in the Austrian sector of Poland in November of that year, though other Polish cities such as Poznaó, Warsaw, and Lvov were already familiar with the idea of animated photographs thanks to displays of Edison's Vitascope.
There were many pioneers working on the idea of animated photography in east central Europe, the most important being the Czech Jan Krizenecý, and the Poles Jan Lebiedzifiski, Kazimierz Prószyński, and Jan Szczepanik. This initial period of film development also saw the first theoretical works of Boleslaw Matuszewski, the Polish photographer and film operator resident in Paris: 'Une nouvelle source de l'histoire (création d'un dépôt de cinématographie historique)', and 'La photographie animée, ce qu'elle est et ce qu'elle doit être', published in March and August 1898 respectively. Emphasizing the significance of motion picture photography, its historical value and vast cognitive potential, Matuszewski was the first to postulate the need to create a comprehensive film archive, comprising every kind of film documentation.
In the countries of east central Europe, the first generation of people who worked with film were mainly stage actors, theatrical directors, journalists, professional photographers, and authors of popular literature. Pioneers of film production in Hungary included Mihály Kertész, an actor at the National Theatre, and the journalist Sándor Korda. After a decade and a half of film-making in Hungary (their film output between 1912 and 1919 comprised thirty-nine and twenty-four items respectively), they went on to work with distinction in film industries abroad; Kertész in America, under the name Michael Curtiz, and Korda in England, as Alexander Korda.
The first full-length feature films in east central Europe were created after 1910, at the same time as in Italy and France. In 1911, with the participation of artists from the Variety Theatre in Warsaw (then in the Russian sector) where he was both actor and director, Antoni Bednarczyk made the first Polish feature film entitled The History of Sin, based on the scandalous and highly popular novel by Stefan Z+́eromski. A further ten feature films were made in the same year, including three in Yiddish. By the outbreak of the First World War, over 50 full-length feature films, and some 350 shorts (fiction, news films, documentaries) had been produced by the three sectors of partitioned Poland.
In Hungary, the first 'artistic film drama' was directed in 1912 by Mihály Kertész from a screenplay by Ivan Siklosi and Imre Roboz, and entitled Ma es holnap ('Today and tomorrow'). The main roles were played by Artur Somlay and Ilona Aczel, actors from the National Theatre, and Mihály Kertész himself (from the Hungarian Theatre). The film's première, on 14 October 1912, is generally considered to be the birth of Hungarian cinema. The greatest success of Czech feature production was the screening of Bedr+̌ich Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride, directed by Oldrich Kminak ( 1913). In Belgrade, the first feature film involving the participation of actors was produced in 1910. Entitled Karadjordje, it was directed by a Serb, I. Stojadinović, the camera operator being Jules Berrie, a Frenchman from the firm of Pathé.
The period before the First World War also saw the founding of the first indigenous film production companies, most notably Antonin Pech's Kinofa ( 1907-12) and Max Urban's Fotokinema (later ASUM) in Prague, and Aleksander Hertz's Sfinks in Warsaw. A cinema network was well developed, especially in the big cities, where films were the most popular and accessible form of entertainment. Before 1914, over 300 permanent cinemas were in operation on Polish territory. One hundred and fourteen cinemas were opened in Budapest in 1913 alone. Film magazines soon began to appear: A kinematograf ( 1907), Mozgofenykep hirado ( 1908), and the film periodicals published by Korda, Pesti mozi ( 1912), Mozi ( 1913), and Mozihet ( 1915-19) in Hungary; the Polish Kino-teatr i sport ('Cinematheatre and sport', 1914) and Scena i ekran ('Stage and screen', 1913). Like the films of the time, they show the mutual penetration of élite and mass culture.
The advent of the First World War influenced the development of these national cinemas to an uneven extent. Both Serbia and Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) mainly produced films reporting on military