Saturday, July 26, 2014

Palestine 1896 short film (La Palestina En 1896) - Lumiere Brothers

One of the first-ever motion pictures was filmed in Ottoman Palestine by the French Lumiere brothers. It is known popularly as Train Station in Jerusalem (1896). Its exotic, panoramic views are as transfixing today as when they were first screened for a European audience. (1)

The Lumière (pronounced: [lymjɛːʁ]) brothers, Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas [oɡyst maʁi lwi nikɔla] (19 October 1862, Besançon, France – 10 April 1954, Lyon) and Louis Jean [lwi ʒɑ̃] (5 October 1864, Besançon, France – 6 June 1948, Bandol), are credited to be first filmmakers in history. They patented the cinematograph, which contrary to Edison's "peepshow" kinetoscope, the former allowed viewing by multiple parties at once, like current cinema. Their first film, Sortie de l'usine Lumière de Lyon, shot in 1894, is considered the first real motion picture in history. Curiously, their surname, "Lumière", is French for "light". (2)

This film footage of Palestine in 1896 was published online thanks to Lobster Films. It shows Palestinians of all faiths – Christians, Jews and Muslims – living side by side, and praying side by side. I transcribed the narration below.

15 years later, the cinema is taking its first steps. Cameramen employed by the Lumiere Brothers filming in Jerusalem’s station, provide the first moving pictures taken in Palestine. From now on, the camera’s a recording eye and what it records is this: A society much like that of Cairo, Damascus, or Beirut, in an Arab city much like any other.

By the end of the 19th century, Palestine has 500,000 inhabitants, of whom 30,000 live in Jerusalem. A veiled woman, a Sunni Muslim, one of the majority. An orthodox Jew. He too turns away from the camera. Here we have an Armenian pope. Each of the Christian denominations has its church here in the holy city. The holy places of the three religions are scattered across a few hundred square meters. The Great Mosque is close to Christ’s tomb. Further along at the foot of the wailing wall, a Jew is reciting a prayer. He is wearing a Turkish tarboush, and although he prays in Hebrew his everyday language is Arabic. Jews form half the population of Jerusalem, but in the country as a whole they make up less than 5% of the total. Christians account for 10% and Muslims 85%. All of them are subjects of the Sultan of Constantinople. There are no frontiers in the Ottoman Empire. There are administrative divisions in which, in this immense territory, Palestine occupies a mere 27,000 square kilometers, made up of three small districts, in the south of the province of Damascus.

According to the Electronic Intifada’s Jalal Abukhater, the film was recovered in Paris, February 2007. (3)


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