On this day 120 years ago, the Limelight Department was established by the Salvation Army in Melbourne, as one of the world’s first film studios. Joseph Perry, a Salvation Army officer who had set up a photography studio to provide income for the Salvation Army’s work, had become an expert at using lantern slides with hand coloured images, and he now decided to expand into the new technology of film. Just three years earlier, the Lumière brothers had invented movies and used their cinématographe to record and show the first movie.
In 1898 Perry created a visual presentation called Social Salvation, using lantern slides in conjunction with film segments. The following year he created a series of thirteen 90-second film segments on the life of Jesus, while also starting work on a much larger project, a two-and-a-half-hour presentation called Soldiers of the Cross, including fifteen 90-second film segments and 200 lantern slides. The presentation was first shown to an audience of more than 3,000 at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1901.
Subsequently, Soldiers of the Cross was taken throughout Australia for showings in local halls. The Limelight Department continued to produce evangelistic films, while also producing films for the government and private clients in order to fund its operations and to provide income for the Salvation Army. However, the Limelight Department was shut down in 1910 by the new Commissioner who felt that the cinema was incompatible with the church.