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On This Day in 1895, the Lumière Brothers Debuted Their First Film and Changed the World

Often regarded as the most important movie ever made, "Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory" was first seen on March 22, 125 years ago.

Workers Leaving the Factory

It’s the understatement of the century to say that life for moviegoers — and everyone, really — was different in 1895. This was the year that, on March 22, 125 years ago today, Auguste and Louis Lumière debuted “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory,” a short film widely regarded as the invention of movies for mass audiences. The premiere was held at a private screening for an audience of 10. Watch the film below.

The film was shot in 35mm, with the aspect ratio of 1.33.1 at 16 frames per second. The Lumière brothers were among the first filmmakers in world history, pioneering cinematic technology as well as establishing the common grammar of film. The brothers went on to work on hundreds of films in less than a decade. The Lumières also created the cinematograph, a motion-picture film camera that serves as both a projector and a printer. Developed in Lyon, this technology allowed multiple moviegoers to experience a projected film for the first time.

The early Lumière brother movies became known as “actualités,” or “actuality films,” and are still regarded as the earliest form of documentary filmmaking in history. Some of the brothers’ other well-known early short films include “Horse Trick Riders,” “The Gardener,” “Blacksmiths,” “Baby’s Breakfast,” and “Jumping Onto the Blanket.” The straightforward titles all derived from the actions or subjects depicted in each film. It wasn’t until 1903 that narrative cinema was first introduced with the debut of Edwin S. Porter’s groundbreaking “The Great Train Robbery.”

The anniversary of the first screening of “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” just happens to fall on a date that, today in March of 2020, the American public and audiences everywhere have almost no access to theaters. Shutdowns amid the ongoing public health crisis have rocked the industry, leaving ahead an uncertain future for the fate of traditional exhibition. (IndieWire offers a hopeful take on the future of moviegoing via critic David Ehrlich’s Sunday analysis here.)

But given the current state of affairs as virtually everyone is forced to self-quarantine and social-distance, it’s possible that more movies are being watched than ever right now — on VOD and via other platforms. (Read IndieWire’s analysis of the VOD rental landscape, in lieu of a box-office report of which there’d be sadly little to report, here.)

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