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World's oldest cinema to reopen in France's La Ciotat

AFP

The Eden Theatre, the world's oldest cinema, reopens Wednesday after an extensive refurbishment in the French city of La Ciotat, where the Lumière brothers screened the very first moving picture of a train arriving at the local station in 1899.

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The world's oldest movie theatre reopens Wednesday after an extensive refurbishment in the southern French city of La Ciotat, where the Lumière brothers screened the very first moving picture of a train arriving at the local station in 1899.

The Eden Theatre, closed since 1995, has been redone with velvet seats and refurbished oak floors replacing its orginal carpets while yellow paint and mosaic tiles now decorate its facade.

Auguste and Louis Lumière presented their first moving picture to some 250 stunned spectators on March 21, 1899, at the seafront theatre, located not far from the port city of Marseille. Filmed in 1895, the black-and-white silent movie, "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat", shows a steam train pulling into a station, and passengers getting on and off.

Legend has it that when the 50-second film was first shown, spectators were so terrified at the image of a train moving towards them that they leapt out of their chairs in panic.

The brothers had previously showcased their work at their wealthy industrialist father's home and at other cinemas, but these buildings have long since disappeared.

Expanded cultural centre

Over the decades, the Eden served as both a cinema and theatre, and several French film stars, including Yves Montand and Fernandel, performed there early in their careers.

But the Eden hit hard times in the 1980s, when the owner was killed by thieves and the theatre stopped luring the crowds. In the years following, it opened for only one week each year to host a festival showcasing early French-language movies.

Supporters of the historic building never gave up their fight to get it reopened, but it was not until the EU named nearby Marseille the European Capital of Culture for 2013 that local authorities finally agreed to renovations costing €6 million ($8.1 million).

The Eden is now run by a private operator, and visitors are able to wander through a permanent exhibition on the origins of animated pictures.

Outside, the facade will be adorned with a nighttime laser-light installation depicting a train in honour of the first Lumière brothers film.

French media reports have said that actress Nathalie Baye and film director Roman Polanski are among the stars expected to attend Wednesday's inaugural ceremony.

The challenge for the Eden will be to keep the 166-seat theatre economically viable, with fans of the building saying it should be part of a larger cultural project that offers educational tours for school children, screens restored films and hosts film festivals.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

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