The world's first screening of a motion picture to a paying audience took place at the Grand Café in Paris on 28 December 1895; it was a programme of short films by Louis Lumière, who with his brother Auguste ran a photography firm in Lyon. Ever since that date, cinema has occupied a central place in the culture of France, a place the French state, as we shall see, has always been concerned to protect and promote. The Paris Cinémathèque, founded by Henri Langlois and Georges Franju in 1936, has remained since then the world's best-known cinematic archive, and there is no city in which it is possible to see a greater range and variety of films than Paris. The cinematic involvement of leading figures from the worlds of literature and theatre, from Sacha Guitry to Marguerite Duras, is another indication of how important a place in French culture cinema holds. Pride in a national invention, the dominant place of Paris in the national culture (not even London or New York can lay claim to such hegemony), the city's reputation as a byword for intellectual and cultural innovation and, after the Second World War especially, France's longstanding love/hate relationship with the United States, epicentre of world cinema, are among the main reasons for this centrality.

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