Manaki Brothers

Only ten years after the birth of the film in world cultural centers, the brothers Janaki and Milton Manaki bought the Bioscope 300 film camera and shot the first film shots in the Balkans.

Their appearance in Bitola was not accidental and their marks right here were more mission and chronology of a more significant and comprehensive move of history. They were not just cinematographers, photographers, filmmakers, they were a kind of historical archivists, collectors of all the endless manifestations of life. Their fate, predetermined and set by the overall genesis of this city was in fact the fate of two dreamers who preserved the total immortality of humanity seen through all their photographic and film paintings with light.

Јанаки и Милтон Манаки со мајсторите што го градат фотоателјето во Битола (1904 г)
Janaki and Milton Manaki with the masters who built the photo studio in Bitola (1904)

The Manaki family

Јанаки Манаки во ученичка униформа на романскиот лицеј во Битола (1897 г)
Janaki Manaki in a student uniform at the Romanian high school in Bitola (1897)

The Manaki family comes from the village of Avdela in Grevena, today the Republic of Greece. Chifliksaibia Dimitrie and his wife Lusha (Lucia, Rusija) had two sons Janaki and Manaki and three daughters Evantija, Vasiliki and Sterjana.

Janaki was born on May 18, 1878 and after finishing primary school in Avdela, he enrolled in high school in Bitola, which he completed in the school year 1896/97. In 1898 he opened his own photography studio in Ioannina, where in the same year he was appointed professor of calligraphy and drawing at the Romanian Trade Gymnasium.

Younger brother Milton was born on September 9, 1882. After finishing primary school in his village, he continued his education at the Romanian Trade Gymnasium in Ioannina, which he soon left with an unfinished second grade. He started working in his brother’s newly opened studio and soon became a master of photography.

Arrival in Bitola

Between 1898 and 1905, the Manaki brothers frequently traveled and photographed more than 40 settlements.

In Bitola, which at that time was an important socio-political, trade and cultural center, Janaki had a wide circle of friends from the time of his schooling. In 1904, the Manaki brothers bought a shop on the main street “Shirok Sokak” and hired builders to adapt it to a photo studio, which they opened in December 1905.

Свадбена поворка снимена на денешна ул. Солунска, Битола 1904/05 г
Wedding procession recorded on today's st. Solunska, Bitola 1904/05

In 1906, at the Grand Exhibition of Photographs in Bucharest, they received gold and silver medals and were honored with the title of court photographers of King Carol I of Romania.

During their visit to Constantinople, Janaki photographed Mehmed Reshad, who became sultan replacing his brother Abdul Hamid II after the Young Turk Revolution.

The first filmmakers in the Balkans

Educated and professional in his field, Janaki photographed many other important people and had the opportunity to travel to many European cities. During his visit to London (or Paris), he bought the Bioscope No.300 camera produced by Charles Urban Trading Co., with which in their village Avdela the brothers shot their first “live pictures” of the Balkans. Their 113-year-old grandmother Despina and a group of women preparing wool for spinning will be remembered forever.

In addition to photography, in Bitola and the surrounding area, the Manaki Brothers were also involved in the filming activity and left a lasting record of a number of fairs, weddings and religious ceremonies.

Парада по повод Младотурската револуција - 1908
Parade on the occasion of the Young Turk Revolution, Bitola 1908

In 1908 they filmed and photographed the demonstrations on the occasion of the Young Turk Revolution. Insurgents and various groups that were involved in the demonstrations were photographed, as well as Niyazi Bey, the leader of the Young Turk Revolution.

The most significant year for the film opus of the Manaki brothers was 1911 when they created three video reports: the visit of Sultan Mehmed V Reshad to Thessaloniki and Bitola, the visit of the Romanian delegation to Bitola and the funeral of Metropolitan Emilianos of Grevena.

Султанот Мехмед Решад V во посета на Битола, 1911 г
Sultan Mehmed Reshad V in Bitola, 1911

Balkan Wars and World War I

In 1912, during the Balkan Wars, the Serbian army led by Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadzhordzhevikj was photographed entering Bitola.

Shortly after, World War I began, and in 1915 numerous photographs were taken showing horrific scenes from the war. After occupying Bitola by the Bulgarian army, Janaki was imprisoned and interned in Bulgaria, where he later opened a photography studio in Plovdiv. In difficult conditions, Milton stayed in Bitola and continued to work, but during the bombing of the city, their atelier was damaged and their photographic equipment was destroyed.

Мајка со изгладнети деца, Битола 1915/16 г
Mother with starving children, Bitola 1915/16

Between the two world wars

After the end of the First World War, Bitola was practically destroyed by the two-year bombing, with a large number of human casualties. In 1919 Janaki returned to Bitola and together with Milton they renewed the work of the photography studio.

Poverty reigned in Bitola at that time and although at first their work was not going well, things slowly stabilized, and at the same time the brothers considered expanding their business.

In 1921, they bought a yard on Shirok Sokak with the intention of building a cinema hall and founded the Manaki Cinema. The first cinema screening was shown in the summer garden in August, and in the spring of 1922 the construction of the building began.

Екскурзијанти од Германија кои со своите автомобили поминале пет континенти. Милтон Манаки е потпрен на автомобилот десно. Тумбе Кафе Битола 1920/1921 година.
Passengers from Germany who traveled five continents with their car. Milton Manaki is leaning on the car on the right. Tumbe Cafe Bitola 1920/1921.

Manaki Cinema

The project for the new cinema building was simple, but even during the construction, two walls collapsed, which created new financial difficulties for the Manaki Brothers, who had already spent all their money. With a loan from the Mortgage Bank and an investment from their new partners Kosta Chomu and Dimitrie Georgievski, they managed to complete the facility and bought the necessary equipment for the cinema functioning.

They already had a good cooperation with Kosta Chomu, especially in the period from 1921 to 1922 when they organized numerous cinema performances at three places in the city – in the halls of the hotels “Bosnia” and “America” and in the cinema garden “Manaki”.
The newly built facility of the “Manaki” cinema provided all the conditions for uninterrupted work. It was well equipped with the necessary equipment and there were total 373 seats in the cinema hall. In the beginning, the work went normally and innovative efforts were made to attract the audience, but over time the number of visitors to the cinema screenings began to decline, which in 1925 brought the question of profitability working. The partner owners soon withdrew and in 1927 the cinema was wholly owned by the Manaki Brothers, who were already financially exhausted and in debt. During that period, both in the world and in Bitola, the economic crisis was felt more and more, as well as the pressure of the competition, due to which the work in the photography studio was slowly decreasing.

It was really difficult to attract an audience and it took special effort and innovation to animate it. Special posters were printed, cinema screenings were advertised in an innovative way, and the screenings themselves were enriched with additional content. Screenings of silent films were often accompanied by music orchestras.

The world in that period was in an increasingly severe economic crisis, the competition was increasing, and the handling of the equipment was especially risky, which further increased the price of cinema tickets. The audience was constantly shrinking, and the annuities from the Mortgage Bank were a huge financial pressure.

In the period 1928-1930, the cinema was rented by Risto Zerde from Prilep, a film actor, who at the beginning managed to improve the work a little, but still the desired results were not achieved.
Due to the irregular payment of annuities to the Mortgage Bank, the financial problems of the Manaki Brothers became huge and in 1933 a bankruptcy of the cinema was announced, which gave the bank the right to manage with it.
In 1937, the rented cinema was taken over again by Risto Zerde, who signed a 10-year contract with the Mortgage Bank, with an obligation to renovate the building and modernize the equipment. At the beginning things were slowly improving but in 1939 the building burnt to the ground.

The debts of all the creditors were covered by the insurance received, but the biggest losers were the Manaki brothers who had previously sold a good part of their inherited property to build the cinema.

Опожарено кино Манаки, 1939 г
Manaki Cinema after the fire, 1939

World War II

Before the outbreak of World War II, Janaki moved to Thessaloniki, where his son Dimitrie was educated.

Milton remained in Bitola and in 1940 he photographed the consequences of the Italian bombing, and during the fascist occupation and various people and events.

In 1944 he photographed the withdrawal of the Bulgarian army, and on November 4, 1944 the entry of the fighters from the 7th Macedonian Brigade in liberated Bitola, the reception organized by the citizens and the events that followed.

After the liberation

Манифестации по повод ослободувањето на Битола, 4 ноември 1944
Manifestations on the occasion of the liberation of Bitola, November 4, 1944

Janaki did not return to Bitola this time and remained in Thessaloniki where his son died on December 14, 1947, and seven years later, in 1954, Janaki Manaki also died on an unknown date.

Милтон Манаки со камерата Bioscope 300

Milton continued to work and create in Bitola and was an honorary photographer of many important people who visited the city such as the President of Yugoslavia – Josip Broz Tito. Although weakened by diabetes and old, he was actively involved in deciphering the photo material in the regional department of the State Archives in Bitola.
He died on March 5, 1964.

Known as the first Balkan cinematographers, Janaki and Milton Manaki incorporated all their knowledge and selfless love into the recording of a wide range of events and people.

In a period of sixty-six years, during which important historical events took place, as true pioneers in the field of photo and video documentary, the Manaki Brothers left a rich photo and video material, with great archival and artistic value.

In their honour, the International Film Camera Festival “Manaki Brothers’’ has been held since 1979 in Bitola, which is the first and oldest world film festival dedicated to the creativity of world cinematographers.


Known as the first Balkan cinematographers, Janaki and Milton Manaki incorporated all their knowledge and selfless love into the recording of a wide range of events and people.

Their predestination, their appearance through “painting with the light” to reach all the similarities in the Balkans and Europe was a rare example of courage, faith and full commitment. The two brothers titanically faced the epic contrasts of life and death that met in this enlightened European point, depicting Sisyphus’ eternal struggle to reach the light in the sky against all the darkness that came as floods with the centuries that suffocated the Balkan cruelly, unjustly and mercilessly.

They have left a rich and significant film and photographic opus of over 7,715 negative glass plates, 2087 plan films, 8711 roll films and 17854 photographs, which together with their Camera 300 are kept in the Archive of Bitola.
The entire saved video material, which is grouped in 42 titles, is kept in the Cinematheque of the Republic of Northern Macedonia.