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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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Yet another 4-star review for our latest release SANCTUARY.

It won the two biggest awards in Ireland last week for Best Irish film beating the mighty THE KILLING OF THE SACRED DEER.
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A very very famous and rich filmmaker has just contacted me on the QT to ask if there is anything he can do to get the Louis Le Prince name out there.


Where was he during the 31 years it took me to raise the funding?
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There is a British man in France who has spent 27 years researching amongst others Louis Le Prince and he has pretty concrete evidence as to what really happened to Le Prince....if he is right. I await with great interest his publication of his findings

I think he may very well be right.
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Back in Leeds filming for our latest feature doc and yet again another parking ticket.

On THE FIRST FILM we filmed in New York, Philidelphia, Cleveland, Memphis, Paris, Metz, Bradford, Hastings and that there London and the only place we got parking tickets was Leeds.

On this film the team has filmed all over London, Bristol, Bath, Wales, Scotland, Norwich, Kent, Southend, Manchester, Sheffield, York etc and never a ticket.

Only in Leeds 🙂
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In 2013 we filmed in Briggate in Leeds for a scene, not in the final film.

We asked 42 people all living in Leeds if they knew who Louis Le Prince was. Only one said yes.

I doubt that is the case now.
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The success or failure of any documentary is down to those who feature on screen helping to tell the tale it is you are crafting.

On THE FIRST FILM, I did have many years to select all the people who took part. There were only two I did not find myself. One was Mick McCann and the other was Gordon Trewinnard who found me.

Gordon sadly passed away recently.

Without him, my film would have been significantly poorer.

I was trying to work out for a very long time how I could introduce all the film pioneers in a visual and exciting way. Gordon provided the tools for Adrian Wootton to be able to do this.

I have had emails and comments regarding the film from all over the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, France, Spain, Belgium, Russia etc saying how moving and fitting the ending is and what a perfect tribute it is to Louis Le Prince.

That was all made possible because of Gordon, spending over 25 years of his life recreating the inventions of all those pioneers, most of them like Le Prince cruelly forgotten, whilst lesser men like the Lumiere's and Thomas Edison were credited for something they never really did, although they did contribute to race to make the worlds first film.

RIP Gordon Trewinnard.
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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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