24/1/1897: Havana Movie Show
Following his introduction of film to Mexico – and prior to his visit to Colombia – Gabriel Veyre, on a mission to film scenes for the Lumiere’s exhibition at the 1900 Paris World Fair, stopped off in Cuba to introduce cinema to its people. Veyre arrived at the port of Havana on the 15th January in the middle of a harsh tropical winter. The Spanish authorities would allow Veyre into the country on the condition that he would make only propaganda movies of military manoeuvres. The country was embroiled in a war of independence at the time, a fact that had severe repercussions on Veyre’s revenue from his screenings. Despite this, business was good, and Veyre stayed in Cuba until March.
On the 23rd of January, a little more than a week after arriving in Cuba, Veyre gave his first show for an invited audience of journalists. The following day, at 6.30pm on Sunday the 24th, a maximum of 80 Cuban people were introduced to the cinema, in the old Tacon Theatre on Prado Street in Havana. The admission fee was fifty cents for adults, and twenty cents for children and soldiers of the Spanish army. Details of the films shown are hard to find, but some Cuban sources suggest that the show included the Lumieres' film of men playing cards, the ever-popular train arriving at a station, and Le Arroseur Arrosé. Other titles might include The Comedian Hat (El Sombrero Comico), Babies (Los Bebes), Mountain Artillery (Artilleria de Montaña), Troop Dancing (Baile de Tropa), and Negroes Taking a Bath (Unos Negros Bañándose). The films were shown on a white sheet sprinkled with water. The show was a huge success and, in the ten shows between 6.30 and 11.30 on that first evening, 800 viewers watched the Lumieres’ films. That isn’t to say that 800 individuals were present, because many people were so entranced by the moving images that they paid to see the show more than once.
Veyre stayed in Cuba until the 16th of March, when the theatre was damaged by a fire. This is quite ironic because the first film ever shot in Cuba, by the intrepid M. Veyre, was made on the 7th February 1897, and was entitled Simulacre d'un Incendie. It was made on the behest of Spanish actress Maria Tubau, and showed the members of the local fire brigade (which was situated on the corner of Prado Street and San José) answering a call on their horse-drawn carriage. The film still exists today. [ADD]
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