Moving pictures first attracted large Swedish audiences at the Stockholm exhibition in 1897. Though early silent films were generally only a few minutes long and often documented actual events, the erstwhile novelty rapidly established itself as popular entertainment during the next decade or so. In the absence of permanent movie theaters, operators traveled around the country, sometimes with a single snippet of film, screening it in whatever locale was available. These inauspicious beginnings notwithstanding, the artistic and commercial potential of the medium was apparent to some. Among the pioneers were the producer Charles Magnusson (1878–1948), the cinematographer Julius Jaenzon (1885–1961); and two directors, Victor Sjöström (1879–1960) and Mauritz Stiller (1883–1928), whose impact and contribution reached far beyond national borders.

In 1909 Magnusson became head of the production company Svenska Bio, renamed Svensk Filmindustri in 1919, which has dominated the industry ever since. Magnusson established a chain of movie theaters as an outlet for his films, a model of production and distribution that likewise still pertains. Magnusson's business acumen was combined with professional competence—he served occasionally as director, cameraman, and script-writer—and artistic vision. He also had the foresight to hire Jaenzon, Sjöström, and Stiller.

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