Courtesy of Boxoffice France
The story dates back to 1889, when entrepreneur Alfred Seguin decided to open a new cabaret in the small city of Ciotat in southern France. Construction began on February 18th under the direction of renowned architect Marius Dessault. Stretching over 28, 200 square feet, the Eden quickly became the most lively destination in the coastal city of 12,000 inhabitants, offering concerts, boxing, and Greco-Roman wrestling events interspersed with theatrical plays.
On September 21, 1895, a dozen Louis Lumière films were screened for the first time. His brother, Antoine, was present in an audience of 150 mesmerized people. The films were shown once again on October 14—with little success, this time, as Antoine had not yet mastered the technical challenge of projection. On December 28, 33 patrons (including Georges Meliès) enjoyed a third screening.
But it was March 21 that would be marked in history as the first commercial screening at the Eden, with the projection of the Lumière brothers’ Lancement d’un navire and Une caravane aux Pyramides d’Egypte to 250 people. The immense success of the screening led the theater to reschedule another session the following day.
The crisis that hit the French economy in the 1980s cost the Eden almost everything. Admissions collapsed dramatically, and rumors regarding the future of the building began to spread. Would it be converted to a pub? To a hotel? In 1982, amidst the financial turmoil, the theater’s 25-year-old director, Georges Giordana, was murdered inside the Eden during a robbery. The theater was shut down during the investigation, and the case was quickly closed without resolution. Guy, Georges’ brother, tried to give a second life to the theater, to no avail. The spirit was gone. After a decade full of hardships, the city of Ciotat acquired the building in 1992. In another life-saving advancement, the Eden-Théâtre was classified as a historical monument in 1996, causing it to benefit from the protection of French cultural heritage laws.
In 2013, the cinema was renovated following 16 months of construction work (directed by Nicolas Masson an André Stern) completed on a budget of 7 million Euros. The projection booth was modernized, but the screening room retained its original 1889 looks.
A custodian of cinemas everywhere, the Eden-Théâtre remains a historic witness of the 7th art. They screen historical films while also inviting young filmmakers to showcase their work. For the theater’s 130th birthday on June 15th, the documentary Les trésors de Marcel Pagnol, on the eponymous emblematic French writer and filmmaker, was screened in the presence of his grand-son Nicolas Pangol. Long live the Eden-Théâtre!