Cinema first arrived in Cuba in 1897 when an agent for the Lumière brothers came to display the newly invented cinematographe and also shoot footage of local scenes on the island. The country developed a tremendous and enduring appetite for moving pictures during the first half of the century, with cinemas springing up in great numbers. By 1920 there were 50 cinemas in Havana and more than 300 in the rest of the country. There were a number of notable and popular achievements during this prerevolutionary period, including La Virgen de la Caridad ( The Virgin of Charity , 1930) and El Romance del Palmar ( Romance Under the Palm Trees , 1935) both by RamónPeón, and other early filmmakers all of which conformed with the established genres and styles that characterized Latin American cinema at the time. In spite of these these and other efforts, a national cinema failed to develop as fully in Cuba as in some other Latin American countries, largely due to economic factors and the dominant position of North American distributors in controlling the local industry.
In the 1940s and 1950s amateur filmmakers in different parts of the island grouped together to form a number of cine-clubs, organized around the screening and production of films. They established amateur film competitions and festivals, which continue to form an important aspect of Cuban cultural life today. One amateur group of particular importance, Nuestro Tiempo, fronted a radical leftist cultural organization that supported efforts to overthrow the regime of Fulgencio Batista, which had been in power since 1952. Nuestro Tiempo counted among its young members many of the figures who later became seminal to modern Cuban cinema, including Alfredo Guevara (b. 1925), Santiago Álvarez (1919–1998), Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928–1996), and Julio García Espinosa (b. 1926). The group strongly supported the revolution that came to power on 1 January 1959, establishing Fidel Castro as the commander in chief. It was only after the revolution that a national film industry was set in motion and national cinema developed in earnest.