The history of professional Croatian cinematography began only in the mid 20th century, although the first preserved films of Croatian places were made as early as 1898 by Alexandra Promio of the famous film company Lumière, and in 1904 by Frank Sheffield, the English film pioneer.
Between the two World Wars, several Croatian actors enjoyed notable careers in other European countries (Zvonimir Rogoz). The documentary and short films of internationally acclaimed Oktavijan Miletić and the educational films produced by the School of National Health, which thanks to mobile cinematography were watched by audiences throughout Yugoslavia, are of historical significance. State-sponsored film production was launched during the time of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), when propaganda documentary and cultural films were made, and in 1944, the first full-length feature film with sound, Lisinski, was made, directed by Miletić.
The post-war Communist regime supported film production, introduced film studios, and up to the early 1950s produced many documentaries and films with war themes (known as Partisan films). In the mid 1950s, films were made on a level with Soviet and Hollywood films, while stylistic features typical of European films were evident, particularly traces of neorealism, but also modern narrations (Koncert, by Branko Belan; H-8…, by Nikola Tanhofer), and classical genres were also mastered (Ne okreći se sine, by Branko Bauer). Croatian film then achieved its greatest success; the war melodrama The Ninth Circle was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category, and this was followed by similar successes by Yugoslav co-productions of Partisan spectacles, in which Croatian directors, cameramen, actors and studios participated (Battle on the Neretva, by Veljko Bulajić).
In this period, Croatian cinematography, along with excellent documentaries and children’s films, included internationally acclaimed experimental films (Mihovil Pansini, Tom Gotovac, Ivan Martinac, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis). The greatest contribution to world film was made by the Zagreb School of Animated Film, with a series of original, modernist, un-Disneylike cartoons by authors such as Dušan Vukotić, Vladimir Kristl, Vatroslav Mimica, Aleksandar Marks, Vladimir Jutriša, Boris Kolar, Zlatko Bourek, Nedeljko Dragić, Zlatko Grgić, Zdenko Gašparović and Borivoj Dovniković, and the popular series Professor Baltazar.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Croatian film-making was characterised by originality, part of the Eastern European ‘new film’ trend, i.e. modernism (the works of Vatroslav Mimica, Ante Babaja, Antun Vrdoljak, Krsto Papić, Tomislav Radić, Zvonimir Berković, Krešo Golik, Fadil Hadžić, Lordan Zafranović and Rajko Grlić). During the 1980s, genre-based films dominated in the postmodern spirit (the works of Zoran Tadić), while in the early 1990s, cinematography went through an organisational and production crisis. However, a new generation of directors soon arose (Zrinko Ogresta, Lukas Nola, Vinko Brešan, Hrvoje Hribar, Dalibor Matanić, Ognjen Sviličić and Arsen Anton Ostojić), who contributed to the revival of cinematography. Since 2000, multi-screen cinemas have spread throughout most large towns. Production has been reanimated in particular through the reform of the public film subsidies system in 2008 and the creation of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, the main governing body for the audiovisual sector, increased international co-operation through the membership in the European co-production film fund Eurimages, as well as the participation in the MEDIA Programme of the European Union.