In a culture which celebrates retrospect as much as we do, there is always intrigue to be mined from challenging established but possibly incorrect perceptions – as is indeed the concept at the core of David Nicholas Wilkinson’s documentary The First Film, in which the Yorkshire filmmaker sets out to prove the birth of cinema in 19th century Leeds and not – as commonly thought – in France, several years later.
With a range of thoughts on the subject from personalities such as Tom Courtenay and Joe Eszterhas, Wilkinson makes his case in a journey which takes him from the heart of Leeds all the way to the good ol’ US of A; providing a thoughtful and articulate argument without labouring the point too much. Central to his success is a charmingly upbeat tone which allows even the darker aspects of the story (particularly the notion that the inventor of cinema, Louis Le Prince, may have been killed) to play out without making the film a somewhat grimmer affair.
A visible labor of love for director Wilkinson, The First Film is aided by a visually engaging and even playful style throughout; a charmingly whimsical score by Christopher Barnett intrinsic to this. The second act briefly loses itself to cinematic technobabble; but to the film’s credit, it’s at least well explained and clarified technobabble given reverence and investibility by the director and presenter. Eschewing shock tactics for a straight and well-intentioned presentation, 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.
The First Film is in cinemas from Friday, July 3rd; rated PG. Check out the trailer below.