Romanian Cinema History
Romanian cinema is one of the strongest in eastern Europe in almost every aspect. From its solid roots, to its evolution during the communist era and the outstanding outcome of modern days, the Romanian cinema industry remains a bold example for many other countries.
The journey of cinema to Romania commenced after the invention of the Lumière brothers’ cinematographer, five months after the first film exhibition in Paris. It was the 27th of May 1896 when a team of the French brothers screened various films in Bucharest hosted by the French-language newspaper L’indépendance Roumanie.
Shortly after, the first film ever set in the country was shot by French cameraman Paul Menu, also related to the Lumière brothers. The feature was called The Royal Parade on 10 May 1897, showing King Carol I on his throne, taking his place to head the parade. According to official documents, Manu shot about 16 films in Romania of which only two were completed and released.
Silent cinema and first attempts in animation
As the excitement of cinema somehow faded away among the Romanian public, Paul Menu stopped shooting in the country and sold his camera to a doctor, who would then become the first Romanian filmmaker. Gheorghe Marinescu, a prominent neurologist who also founded the Romanian School of Neurology, shot a series of short medically- themed films between 1898 and 1899, including the first recorded scientific film: Walking difficulties in organic hemiplegia.
During the first two decades of the 1900s, Romanian cinema began producing fiction films. The first of them, according to historical accounts, was Amor fatal (Fatal Love Affair) directed by Grigore Brezeanu in 1911 in collaboration with actors from the Bucharest National Theatre.
During those decades, the influence of Leon Popescu became crucial for Romanian cinema. He was owner and manager of a cinema with influential contacts from the country’s financial elite and soon realized the importance and hefty revenue of filmmaking. Under his support were produced films like Independența României (The independence of Romania) in 1912, Amorul unei prințese (The Love Affair of a Princess) (1913), Răzbunarea (Revenge), Urgia cerească (The Sky-borne Disaster), both in 1913, and Cetatea Neamțului (The German's Citadel) and Spionul (The Spy) in 1914, with all but the penultimate proving to be well below expectations.
The beginning of a new decade saw the first animated film produced in Romania: Păcală pe lună (Păcală on the moon), released in 1921 and created by the renowned cartoonist Aurel Petrescu.
Spoken cinema and National Cinema Fund
By the time sound films began to be produced in the western world, the Romanian film industry was enduring a stage of complications. The lack of institutional support, technical facilities, film studios and professional training reduced the quantity of films produced per year; the new feature of sound made it even more complicated. Figures speak for themselves: from 1930 to 1939 only 16 movies were produced in the country.
To motivate the industry, a 1934 law established a National Cinema Fund with the purpose of creating a material base for Romanian studios and finance productions. Following its creation, the industry started to flourish again with various entrepreneurs developing sound and production companies with modern equipment. During these days, Ion Șahighian filmed O noapte de pomină (An Unforgettable Night), in 1939. The film found great success with audiences and received favorable critical reception.
Just one year prior, the National Cinematographic Office produced a documentary called Țara Moților (Moților Land), becoming the first film in this genre and eventually winning a prize at the 1938 Venice Film Festival.
The end of World War II marked an important change in eastern Europe as the Soviet Union started to expand. In November 1948 a new era of commenced in the country with the nationalization of the cinema industry.
Often called the “period of socialist cinema,” national productions depicted political ideology and reinforced the stereotype of the working class and its grand achievements. During this period, the Romanian Ion Popescu-Gopo won a Palme d'Or for Best Short Film at Cannes in 1957 for his animation Scurtă istorie (A Short History). The Romanian Film Academy Awards – established in 2007 as the Gopo Awards- are named after him.
New Wave of Romanian Cinema
The end of communism also changed filmmaking in the country and set the grounds for a new era. Now, directors exercised creative liberty without worrying about persecution or censorship.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the industry tried to capture the attention of capital investors, with very little results. A decade later, however, Romanian directors competed in the Directors' Fortnight section parallel to the Cannes Film Festival with Cristi Puiu's first feature film Stuff and Dough and Cristian Mungiu's Occident.
Many critics see the start of the New Wave of Romanian cinema thanks to the release of The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu, also directed by Cristi Puiu in 2005. This new era is marked by realistic stories showcasing the transition from communism to a free-market economy, the struggle of the youth to find jobs, and the corruption found in the new capitalist system.