Who is Lumiere from Split?

In 2021 the city of Split commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of Josip Bepo Karaman (1864 – 1921). Karaman was a true cinematographic pioneer. Known as a great film enthusiast, he shaped the city cinematographic landscape by opening the 1st movie theater.

Shortly after acquiring his first projector, in 1907, he opened Grand Elektro Cinema, the very first cinema in the city of Split. The inaugural screening was held for about 500 spectators. The lack of radio, television, and permanent theater made the citizens hungry for cultural entertainment, thus providing great success for the cinema. The citizens excitedly embraced visiting the cinema as an innovative entertainment and cultural enrichment form.

Other than providing film screenings, in the 1910s, Karaman shot several documentaries about the city of Split. He made a well-known “Procession of St. Dujam” in 1911. In the same year, he filmed the “Funeral of Split Mayor Vick Mihaljević”, a movie of great cultural and ethnographic value. He is also famous for making several short films such as “Falcon Landing in Split” (1910), “Ceremony of Proclamation of Montenegro as Kingdom” (1910), and “Falcon Landing in Zagreb”. Unfortunately, the last one wasn’t preserved. His work is preserved to this day, and the movies are kept in the Croatian Cinematheque (HDA), while the projector is placed in the Museum of the City of Split.

Karaman ran the cinema (later named after him) until his passing in 1921 when his successors continued his legacy.

Karaman was a versatile man. In addition to running the cinema, he ran a paper shop in Pjaca (Narodni trg). He was known as a theater impresario; he organized the visits from Italian opera groups, and he was a co-founder of the city orchestra and organizer of the city lottery. Furthermore, he co-founded the newspaper “Novo Doba” in 1918.

The Karaman’s legacy was a shaping element for generations of citizens, yet, not much is known about him. His cinema is one of the oldest in Europe, and it represents an important cultural asset for the city of Split. The cinema continues to operate for 115 years. It is no wonder that many refer to Josip B. Karaman as our Lumiere!