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Weeks before a planned debut of his films at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in 1890, Louis Le Prince disappeared and was largely forgotten as the father of moving pictures.

On September 8 and 9, 2016, at 7 pm, the Morris-Jumel Mansion will host the U.S. premiere of “THE FIRST FILM ,” the acclaimed documentary by director David Nicholas Wilkinson presenting the case that Louis Le Prince was the first person to capture continuous movement from a single point of view, making him the world’s first cameraman, director, and producer of motion pictures.

A native of Leeds himself and a 46-year film industry veteran as a distributor, producer, and actor, Wilkinson had long been baffled that Le Prince and his legacy were little-known outside of Yorkshire where, arriving in 1866, he lived and worked as an engineer, chemist, inventor, and what would become known as a cinematographer. Wilkinson’s film documents his decades-long quest to prove that Le Prince’s films created in Leeds, England, in October 1888, with his camera patented that year, predate those of Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers.

After perfecting his projection machine, Le Prince arranged to demonstrate his discovery for the first time to the American public and thus the world in New York City. Ever the showman he planned to present the first screening in 1890, at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, George Washington’s old headquarters in Washington Heights. Before he could, however, just weeks before he was to return to New York from France, he disappeared after boarding the Dijon to Paris train and neither he nor his personal effects were ever found.

Carol S. Ward, executive director of the Mansion, said, “A true detective story, Louis Le Prince’s association with Morris-Jumel Mansion and mysterious disappearance add another important chapter to the Mansion’s storied history. Had he realized his plan, Manhattan’s oldest house would have been the world’s first movie theater. We are delighted that David Nicholas Wilkinson pursued this fascinating and essential piece of film history and, in so doing, helped shine the light on Le Prince’s contributions to cinema and deepen our understanding of one of our distinguished residents.”

While he did patent his camera—a technological marvel with 16 lenses—no one could support the claim that Le Prince created the first film. Because his body was never recovered, his family had to wait seven years to have him declared legally dead. As a result, Edison and the Lumières completed their inventions in the 1890s, claimed the glory and profits, and Le Prince’s name and his pioneering work were largely forgotten.

Ms. Ward added, “David and his team’s thorough research and examination of the evidence including documents in our archive, interviews with film historians and experts in patent law and criminal investigations, and, after an 18-month search, meetings with Le Prince’s descendants in Memphis, TN, combine to reveal a compelling story of innovation, an unsung hero of cinema, and the ruthless international competition to create the first moving pictures.”

The screenings take place outdoors on the Morris-Jumel Mansion grounds, at 65 Jumel Terrace, New York City. Screenings will be followed by a program with Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Ward, and refreshments will be served. Admission is $40 per person; $30 for students, seniors, and Mansion members. Visitors are welcome to bring blankets and tour the Mansion. After the screenings, “THE FIRST FILM” will be available on iTunes, GoolePlay, Xbox, Vimeo and others.



The detective work in David Nicholas Wilkinson’s The First Film
is amateur in the best, most shining sense. He loves his
obsession; he can’t afford to hire a Sherlock Holmes; but by the
end of this hunt for the man alleged to have made literally “the
first film” — Leeds-dwelling expatriate Frenchman Louis Le
Prince — we are gripping the seat arms, saying “Oh let it be
so!”……………Le Prince himself disappeared without trace after
boarding a train in 1890. Dropped dead? Murdered by Edison’s
thugs? It’s a Holmes case better than many of Holmes’s. And I
wouldn’t swap Wilkinson’s dapper monomania for even
Sherlock’s sure-footed expertise.
Financial Times ****

“Wilkinson attempts to prove once and for all that his home city
is the genuine birthplace of film and has until now, been
criminally overlooked…..The First Film  brings out a real love of
storytelling and cinematic art. Highly recommended for film
buffs, students and fans alike.
Flickering Myth ****

“ Wilkinson makes a clear case that Le Prince was a prototypical
film artist, and a genuine pioneer “
The Guardian ***

“The First Film works both as a detective story and as an
account of a brilliant inventor who had an aesthetic side that
many of his rivals lacked”
The Independent ***

Were the first ever moving pictures made in Leeds by Louis Le
Prince? Wilkinson intriguing documentary makes a convincing
case….. while others will be captivated by a flickering story that
blends intrigue, industrial espionage, and possibly even murder
Mark Kermode ***

“ this compelling documentary essential for anyone with an
interest in screen history”
Radio Times ****

“this isn't just the first moving picture, it's the first film”
Shadows on the Wall ***1/2

“ Wilkinson’s fascinating labour of love THE FIRST FILM
provides useful context on the global birth of filmmaking and
becomes more interesting as it attempts to solve the mystery of
what happened to Louis Le Prince…..An Absorbing history lesson”.
Daily Express ****

“The First Film successfully makes Wilkinson’s argument whilst
ensuring it keeps it’s own head above water with an engaging
and intriguing look at a bonafide mystery of cinema “
On Screen

“ Fascinating…The First Film should be a worthy resource for
cinema history enthusiasts and students alike.
CineVue ****

"An absorbing doc"
Sunday Mirror ***

“The resulting documentary is an interesting and lovingly
researched piece of work”.
Close-Upfilm ***1/2

“The second half, focusing on Le Prince’s mysterious death, is
more intriguing….. a compelling film”
Morning Star ***

“Wilkinson’s film veers from personal crusade to detective story,
always with a playful spring in its step…a fascinating documentary"
Share Radio ****

UK reviews (86.7% / above average).

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Another 4 star review. Reprinted in the Radio Times for the FilmFour screening -

by David Parkinson

Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince is claimed by many to have perfected the first practical movie camera in 1888 - seven years before the Lumiere brothers. This is a meticulously researched investigation into the achievements and mysterious disappearance of Le Prince, who vanished without trace while travelling on the Dijon-Paris express in September 1890. Working with archivist Irfan Shah, director David Nicholas Wilkinson examines the inventor's pioneering techniques and reveals how he refined the 16-lens camera he devised in the United States into the single-lens machine used in Leeds in 1888 to shoot Roundhay Garden Scene, which Wilkinson cogently establishes as the earliest surviving film. Le Prince's widow, Lizzie, suspected foul play when he went missing, but although former policeman Quentin Dowse offers considered speculation on events here, his fate remains unresolved. Famous faces like Tom Courtenay and Joe Eszterhas chip in periodically, but the more useful contributions about Le Prince's apparatus, patents and accomplishments come from the various experts whose insights make this compelling documentary essential for anyone with an interest in screen history.


David Nicholas Wilkinson's documentary charts his quest to prove the world's earliest surviving film was shot in his native Leeds in 1888 by Frenchman Louis Le Prince. The film-maker and archivist Irfan Shan explores the trailblazing techniques and equipment Le Prince employed to realise his groundbreaking achievement and also turn their attention to what happened to Le Prince just two years after his visit to West Yorkshire.
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Director/ presenter of THE FIRST FILM David Nicholas Wilkinson will be at Armley Mills, Leeds all day Saturday for Q&A screenings of the film.

The event is in the day not the evening.
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Out now on Region 0 PAL DVD ... See MoreSee Less

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In the past when you made a film, you kind of move on as a filmmaker to other films often without a backward glance. Very occasionally someone you knew would see it and say something to you.

With THE FIRST FILM it maybe because with the internet you can now people easily, or it maybe because of the the subject matter but I continue to receive a slow trickle of questions from people all around the world who want to know more. Some even come up with ideas and theories I had not even thought about.

If you have any, please do get in touch.

I must say, given how long it took to get the film made I do appreciate it. Louis Le Prince I am sure would too.

David Nicholas Wilkinson
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I removed this scene from THE FIRST FILM because several people thought that I came across as a chippy Northerner and it would weaken my case if it was included.

I am a chippy Northerner.
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