As part of the former Yugoslavia, the cinema history of Croatia matches the rest of the ancient country’s story and its rebirth following independence in the 1990s.
The story of Croatian cinema started in October 1896 when the first screening occurred in Zagreb. However, it was not until 1906 when the country had its permanent movie theatre, also located in the capital. By then, amateur enthusiasts like Josip Karaman and Oktavijan Miletić dominated filmmaking in the country.
Little is documented from the days of Austro-Hungarian Empire but accounts recognize Brcko u Zagrebu, released in 1917 and directed by Arsen Maas, as the first Croatian feature film.
Used in a similar fashion as many other European countries, cinema was a vital propaganda tool for the Yugoslav regime and the brief Independent State of Croatia. During these era, some Croatian filmmakers gained international success, as was the case of Branko Marjanović, who in 1943 produced the documentary Straža na Drini, winner of a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
As a new decade started, worldwide modernism developed within Croatian cinema. The 1960s saw an exponential growth of animated productions in the country, which took the world by surprise with its own animation film school, Zagrebačka škola crtanog filma (Zagreb Cartoon School).
Indeed, thanks to animation, Croatia won its first ever Academy Award with the short Surogat, directed by Montenegro-born author Dušan Vukotić. This film was the first to break Disney's monopoly at the Oscars, forever changing the landscape of the animation industry.
The 1990s Crisis and a New Era
After its independence, Croatian cinema culture struggled due to the multiple wars and ethnicity conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Very few film efforts reached theatres and those that did were received negatively by the general public. Audiences found them riddled with polarizing propaganda and gruesome war scenes.
However, by the mid-1990s a new generation of filmmakers appeared on the scene. They Young Croatian Film (YCF) portrayed innovative stories including comedies and dramas. Vinko Brešan and Zrinko Ogresta became some of the leading figures of a new era of filmmaking in Croatia, achieving local and international success with films like Mondo Bobo (1997), Isprani (Washed Out, 1995), winner of the Prix Italia, and Crvena prašina (Red Dust, 1999), a winner at the Haifa Film Festival. Starting a new millennium in 2000, Croatian cinema flourished with directors like Arsen A. Ostojić, who received a nomination for the European Discovery EFA award, and Ognjen Sviličić.