Turkish Film Pioneers

I tend to think of French or American silent films when I think of the beginnings of the medium. It was a technology that, clearly, still shapes the world, but the ability to capture things happening in the world and playing it back later was even more profound when it first appeared. The story goes that the first time a film portrayed a train coming at audiences from a first-person perspective, the people screamed in horror, unable to imagine that the train was not real and in fact coming at them.

But it turns out that early film was quite global, and the technology shaped all kinds of people across the world. Among these early pioneers, I was just learning about, were the Manaki brothers, who were Turks living in the then-Ottoman empire. These brothers did a great deal to advance the medium, but they were also around for some of the most profound events of the early 20th century and they were thoughtful enough to capture them.

One of the most important things they captured, though, was not an event, but a person. The brothers had a very long-lived grandmother who was still at home. So one day they brought their cameras home from their studio just to capture her. That is an instinct I think we can all understand — the desire to preserve an older family member for posterity.

Except, in this case, they inadvertently did something prescient and, frankly, amazing. It turned out that she was not only old — she was VERY old. 114 to be exact. But this was a new technology, very much in its infancy — they were capturing her in 1905. So when they filmed her they ended up capturing the oldest person who will ever be filmed — not in terms of her personal age, but in terms of her ancient-ness on the earth. You can view the very short clip of Grammy Matakin spinning some wool in the video here. But what you are looking at is an individual who had been born in — get this! — 1791!

From the year 2020, to have this on my screen and represent someone from this part of history — well, its a little bit like being struck by a train!

Dr. Georgia is the D.R.E. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland, OH.

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