Azerbaijani cinema is historically significant, for the country was one of the first to dive into the film industry with its 1898 production of a 30-second-long silent film about oil fires. Although directed by a French producer, the reel was filmed on Azerbaijani territory.
In 1915, the Pirone brothers of Belgium set up a film production laboratory in Baku and invited famed Russian director Boris Svetlov to work for them. The first movie born from this cooperation was a silent version of the operetta Arshin Mal Alan. In-house musicians provided the soundtrack and male actors played the female roles, yet this movie was only the first in a long line of successful silent films produced in Azerbaijan.
After the Soviets gained control over Azerbaijan in 1920, Azerbaijani cinema was nationalized. In 1923, the government established Azerbaijan Photo Film Institution (APFI) as the official channel for producing Azerbaijani films. APFI's first film was The Maiden Tower Legend, produced in 1924.
The 1940s brought a wave of films focused on the war efforts, while the 1950s shifted attention to the toils of the working class. Yet even during this era, audiences wishing for lighter entertainment could indulge in films such as the 1945 musical version of the classic Arshin Mal Alan.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan established its place in the world cinema by hosting the first Baku International Film Festival which was dubbed East-West. In 1995, director Rustam Ibrahimbeyov won an Academy Award for Burnt by the Sun as Best Foreign Film, an event regarded as one of the proudest moments in the history of Azerbaijani cinema.