International film producers dominated early cinematography. Austrian film pioneers appeared around 1910 and were to influence the domestic cinema scene for the next two decades.
The film programmes in the travelling shows were dominated by French producers. From 1896 to 1914 distributors obtained 67.5 per cent of their films from Pathé. Other French producers included Raleigh & Roberts (6.1 per cent), Eclipse (4.3 per cent), Gaumont (3.5 per cent) and Lumière (2.3 per cent). Deutsche Bioskop (2.1 per cent) was the only non-French producer. Around 2 per cent of the films were shot by the mobile cinema operators themselves.
The arrival of fixed cinemas made it necessary to change the programme more frequently. The demand for films, particularly those feeding to local tastes, grew steadily and opened new and promising possibilities for local producers. In 1906 a few Austrian enthusiasts began to try their hand. While Josef Halbritter concentrated on current affairs, such as the Flower Parade or trotting derby in the Prater, the trained photographer Johann Schwarzer specialized in ‘erotic films’ which he successfully distributed through his company Saturn until 1910.
Two of the most important Austrian film pioneers also made a modest start in 1906. Anton Kolm, who ran a photo studio in Vienna, and his cameraman Jakob Fleck used their primitive cameras to film confirmations, bathing scenes in the Gänsehäufel and marching military bands. Because of the poor quality, they were not suitable for public projection. Four years later, Kolm and Fleck had acquired enough cinematographic experience to found the Erste Österreichische Kinofilms-Industrie with Louise Veltée-Kolm (later Speck), which specialized initially in current events and landscapes. At the end of 1910 the company was renamed Österreichisch-Ungarische Kinoindustrie, and a new production company, Wiener Kunstfilm, was founded a year later. The Kolm-Veltée-Fleck team sought to make a name for themselves on the Austro-Hungarian market as a response to the dominant foreign suppliers and to focus on current affairs, which had been the domain hitherto of French companies. Their films included short documentaries as well as more artistic ones and ultimately social dramas and book interpretations.
In 1910 a further Austrian film pioneer started out. Until the end of the First World War he was the closest rival to the Kolm-Veltée-Fleck team. In 1910 Count Alexander ‘Sascha’ Joseph Kolowrat-Krakowsky founded his Sascha-Filmfabrik in Pfraumberg [Přimda], Bohemia, moving his headquarters to Vienna in 1912. The new production company concentrated before the war on nature films, sports and current affairs. The first film efforts by Sascha-Filmfabrik were quite successful, with the comic duo Cocl & Seff proving to be veritable box office attractions. Kolowrat also managed to persuade the theatre legend Alexander Girardi to make his film debut in Der Millionenonkel (A 1913). Sascha-Filmfabrik played an important role in the First World War as a film production centre. In 1915 Kolowrat was put in charge of the War Press Office until it was reorganized in 1917.
Translation: Nick Somers
Bono, Francesco: Bemerkungen zur österreichischen Filmwirtschaft und Produktion zur Zeit des Stummfilms, in: Bono, Francesco/Caneppele, Paolo/Krenn, Günter: Elektrische Schatten. Beiträge zur österreichischen Stummfilmgeschichte, Wien 1999, 47-75
Kieninger, Ernst: Das „klassische Wanderkino“ 1896–1914. Filmkommunikation auf dem Weg zur Institution am Beispiel Niederösterreich und Umland, Diplomarbeit, Wien 1992
Krenn, Günter: Der bewegte Mensch – Sascha Kolowrat, in: Bono, Francesco/Caneppele, Paolo/Krenn, Günter: Elektrische Schatten. Beiträge zur österreichischen Stummfilmgeschichte, Wien 1999, 37-46
- Projection shows – precursors of the cinema
- The first cinematograph in Vienna – a medium takes Austria-Hungary by storm
- From travelling show to cinema
- Roll up! Performances, attractions, shows and sound experiences
- ‘Numbers’ – jewels from all over the world
- From ‘view’ to narration: genres and stars
- Austrian film pioneers