The first films ever projected were a collection of shorts by the Lumiere Brothers. Edison and the Lumiere's have a long running feud over who actually made the first film. I've heard arguments for both sides and personally I don't think it really matters. I call it a tie; though I do like to give the Lumiere's a slight edge just because it seems as though Edison tended to steal many ideas and inventions.
The Lumiere Brothers camera was amazing in that it was not only the camera, but also the projector. The simplicity of early cameras is amazing to me because you realize that all of the equipment that we burden ourselves with as filmmakers sometimes can get in the way of the idea. All you really need is a box, a lense, the sun, and a strip of celluloid (well, maybe an actor too).
Legend goes that The Train Arriving at the Station was one of the first films shown the night of the Lumiere's screening and that the audience ran out of the theater screaming. Apparently, they thought the train was coming at them and would run them over. If you watch the film below, the train is not coming right at you, but steaming off at an angle. Audiences back in 1895 would have been extremely dumb to have run out of the theater after watching this film, do you not agree?
Research has shown that the audience did not run out screaming and if they did it was a stunt to drum up publicity. I think as students it is important to consider this legend because its endurance relies on contemporary audiences looking at audiences of the past as somehow inferior. Simply because a film is old does not make it less important, less artistic, or less worthwhile. Perhaps it makes us feel better to look back at past audiences and think we are so much more intelligent. When in fact we are just interested in different things at different times.
When watching a Lumiere film it is important to still think about all the same elements as with other films. Why did they put the camera where they put it? How does it influence our viewing of the film? Why did they choose this subject? Early films are incredibly short so you can get in a significant amount of viewing in a fairly short time. All the films are in the public domain due to their age and are fairly easy to find on youtube.
Ironically, The Train Arriving at the Station was probably not even played on that first film screening back in 1895.