The First Film
The First Film is David Nicholas Wilkinson’s attempt to reclaim history on behalf of Louis Le Prince, a pioneer of the moving image who vanished before leaving his definitive mark on the world of cinema. The investigative documentary features a multidisciplinary probing into personal letters, camera prototypes and interviews with patent lawyers, museum curators and film historians to answer the misleadingly simple question: “Did Le Prince create the world’s first film?”
The mere existence of the documentary challenges the widely perceived notion of the Lumière brothers and Edison as the chief innovators of the motion picture camera, underlining the age-old truth that history is subjective. While Wilkinson effectively proves that the filming of Le Prince’s Roundhay Garden Scene preceded the Lumières’ first motion picture in 1895 by seven years, he fails to examine the significance of this fact to the modern-day moviegoer, or even film industry professional. Blindsided by his obsession to prove that Le Prince invented the first cinematic camera, Wilkinson completely misses the opportunity to dispute the importance attributed to “firstness”, which would have made for a more compelling documentary on the history of film technology.
The First Film is riddled with speculation (should have, would have, could have), culminating in a pursuit of the possible culprits of Le Prince’s unexplained disappearance, instead of prying into more pressing questions such as “Who would have a stake in film history as it is written and why?” However, a quick rummage through Wikipedia acknowledges Le Prince’s camera as the first to capture moving images and the Lumières as the first filmmakers to employ the medium for commercial gain. So what exactly is Wilkinson challenging? By the end of the documentary, the viewer is left to arrive at his own conclusions, based on pedantic considerations of what distinguishes a film from a moving image, and a cameraman from a filmmaker.
Wilkinson makes a valiant effort at establishing Le Prince’s aesthetic ingenuity. However, film – just like history – is purely subjective. The First Film is a truly specialist enquiry focused on one aspect of the birth of cinema. Wilkinson’s enthusiasm is engaging, but without any social or cultural implications, the documentary is simply an unsung story of film technology, void of any discernible consequence.
The First Film is released nationwide on 3rd July 2015.
Watch the trailer for The First Film here: