Today, 120 years after the first public film screenings, digitisation has brought in its wake fundamental change for the production, screening and reception of motion pictures. In the early 20th century, the first cinemas came into being, some of them itinerant, some in shops, followed by big movie palaces. In the 1920s, the filmmaker and cinema operator Luise Veltée Kolm founded the VITA-Studios (WIEN-Film) on Rosenhügel with her two husbands Jakob Fleck and Anton Kolm; the cinema pioneer Count Alexander Kolowrat established Sascha-Film and the Sascha Atelier in Sievering. These two studios paved the way for a successful Austrian silent-movie industry. Examples of outstanding studio films produced there are Sodom und Gomorrha (1922) and Die Sklavenkönigin (1924), both directed by Michael Kertesz (later known as Michael Curtiz).
The Vienna film scene has always been concentrated in the seventh district. The area around Neubaugasse was and still is Vienna’s film neighbourhood. Some filmmakers emigrated from Vienna to Berlin or Hollywood as early as the 1920s or 1930s. Many others of Jewish descent were persecuted, driven from the country and robbed of their possessions in 1938 (among them Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Josef von Sternberg, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann). The advent of sound film initiated the development of the popular genre of “Viennese music film”. Between 1938 and 1945, the Wien Film production company was used by the Film Chamber of the Reich as a propaganda instrument serving the Nazi entertainment industry. After the war, post-fascist film culture in Austria was dominated by mass produced revues, Heimatfilm (sentimental films in a traditional, often Alpine Austrian setting) and movies set in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This mass fare was set off by a small but strong segment of avant-garde cineastes. From the 1960s, the Austrian film industry and film culture lay completely dormant more or less. In the 1970s, the ORF (the Austrian public service broadcasting provider) became the most important film producer of the country and produced the first films featuring a generation of directors who were to make the Austrian film and video scene renowned again as of the 1980s: Michael Haneke, VALIE EXPORT, Peter Patzak, Franz Novotny and many others. In 1981, the Austrian Film Funding Act finally provided a framework for new subsidy structures, particularly for art films in Austria. (Amended in 2005) The nomination of Barbara Albert’s film Nordrand for the Venice Film Festival in 1999 heralded a trend of Austrian films becoming more international and specialising in dramas and documentaries with a politico-cultural message. In the last twenty years, film grants became more substantial and made it possible to set up many small, independent production firms. These funds encourage creativity, and Austrian films still have an international presence, which does not, however, necessarily translate into box office success. Films that draw a large audience in Austria are usually comedies, often starring popular stand-up comedians, such as Hinterholz 8 (1998) directed by Harald Sicheritz and featuring Roland Düringer, or Das ewige Leben (2015) directed by Wolfgang Murnberger and starring Josef Hader.
Starting in the 1960s, the Austrian tradition of Actionist and Concept Árt also included an intense exploration of video, a new technology at that time. The human body served as the focal point for the new media constellation. The notions of space, image and material underwent continual redefinition, particularly by feminist artists such as VALIE EXPORT and Friederike Petzold. “Audiovisual messages” was the subject of the tri-country biennial Trigon in Graz in 1973; the first Ars Electonica Festival, organised in 1979 in Linz, firmly established this new alliance between technology, video art and theory. In 1979, activists in Linz founded the culture association Stadtwerkstatt which conducted artistic experiments with the medium of television and explored alternative options for production and distribution. In 1978, an artists’ collective set up Medienwerkstatt Wien as a non-commercial video studio. In the 1980s, this institution was the central hub of independent, artistic media production in Austria. As of autumn 2005, the OKTO television channel - an independent channel subsidised mainly by the City of Vienna – has been engaging in important film mediation and education activities. As of 2011, the third ORF television channel broadcasts theatrical performances and also acts as a potential mediator and agent of Austrian filmmaking in addition to ORFII.