A.H. Mishon

First filmmaker in Azerbaijan

In 1996, Azerbaijan celebrated eighty years of local film production, believing that its first film had been made in 1916. In that year, however, Aydin Kazimzade (director of the Azerbaijan cinema museum) discovered a newspaper clipping that revealed that the nation’s first films had been taken by a locally-based photographer in 1898. A.H. Mishon was a French-born photographer with Russian nationality, who had been resident in Baku for some twenty-five years. He ran a photographic studio in Baku as well as being secretary of the Baku Photographic Society, and specialised in photographs of the Baku oil fields. A combination of his photographic background and French antecedents seems to have led to his securing a Lumière Cinématographe, with a view to taking films for exhibition at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900. On 2 August 1898 Mishon gave an exhibition in Baku’s V.I. Vasilyev-Vyatski Circus Theatre of films he had taken with his Cinématographe showing scenes of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The films shown were Fire resulting from an oil gusher at Bibi-Heybat oil field, The departure ceremony of His Excellency Amir of Bukhara in the Grand Duke Alexei steamship, Folk dance of the Caucasus, and scenes from a dramatic comedy, So, You Got Caught, filmed in one of Baku's parks. The film show was then repeated on the 5th, with new films showing life in the town of Balakhani, outside Baku. Mishon’s films were subsequently exhibited in Paris, and reputedly the folk dance and oil fire films still exist in a film archive in France. Further information on this surprise addition to Victorian cinema history is likely to emerge in the future.

Luke McKernan