In 1866 a young Frenchman, Louis Le Prince came to Leeds in Yorkshire, England and started experimenting with cinematography. In 1888 he shot the world’s first moving pictures on a single lens camera.
But Le Prince never received the acclaim he deserved. On 16th September 1890, just days before he was due to sail to New York to demonstrate his new camera to the public, he stepped onto the Dijon to Paris train and was never seen or heard of again.
We are in the middle of filming a feature length documentary for cinema release which hopes to bring the story of Le Prince to the world - in the 125th anniversary year of his first film. This film we hope will once and for all ensure that Louis Le Prince will at last go into the history books.
My History With The Film
I have wanted to make this film for over 30 years. I first learnt the story at school in Leeds in the 1970's. On visits to Hollywood, New York, Paris and the Cannes Film Festival, I have told the tale of the Frenchman Louis Le Prince inventing the moving image in Leeds but have consistently been met with disbelief. In Leeds, Le Prince has long been regarded as a local hero. In 1930 the then Lord Mayor unveiled a bronze memorial tablet where Le Prince’s workshop had stood. Although Leeds has fought to highlight Louis Le Prince’s pioneering work, his achievements have never been formally acknowledged by any official body and the story is little known outside Yorkshire.
I have always fought for the underdog. In my 34 years as a producer and distributor I have always championed the difficult non-commerical films, the ones the other distribution companies thought were too challenging to take on. I have helped hundreds of directors, producers, editors, camera persons, actors, writers etc make their first films a reality, so many of whom had been ignored by the film establishment.
And now, I’m championing the ultimate underdog – Louis Le Prince, the world’s very first filmmaker who endured debt and separation from his family to pursue his dream of capturing motion pictures.
Over the years, my attempts to fund this project have been rejected by almost every financing outlet in the business. In 2007 I published Made in Yorkshire, a coffee table book which began with the tale of Le Prince, however I was unable to secure national reviews for it because of the ‘ludicrous claim’ that film had been invented in Yorkshire.
Well, I intend to prove this claim with hard facts – patents, cameras, films – and hopefully right a great wrong.
More than that - with your help, we aim to investigate Le Prince's mysterious disappearance in 1890 and assemble a group of suspects, each with motive and opportunity to harm the great inventor.
I have assembled a group of committed filmmakers from Yorkshire and we are already filming. Danny Lacey who was born and still lives in Leeds is directing and editing the film; co- producer Bill Lawrence (former Head of Film at the National Media Museum in Bradford and former board director of Screen Yorkshire, and now a board director of Creative England) lives in Halifax and co-writer and researcher Irfan Shah lives just four minutes away from Le Prince’s old house! Charlie Phillips born and educated in Leeds and now a senior member of Sheffield's world renowned Doc/Fest, is an associate producer.
Why Is The Story Not Better Known ?
This has baffled me for years. I do get the feeling it is yet another conspiracy in a story full of them. If Louis Le Prince had invented the moving image in London or Paris or New York then you can bet the story would have been known years ago. People just laugh at me when I say the moving image was invented in Leeds. Leeds, as I will prove was the Palo Alto of its day where anything was possible. In the late 1800's the North of England led the world in so many areas and was far richer than London.
The film will be made in two parts. The first will be exploring the facts and proving the Le Prince case.
The second part will see me as I try to lobby within the UK to have the history books changed. I will screen a rough cut of the film to leading film industry figures in the UK, France and hopefully the USA. If we can raise funding here, we will see if I can convince them that Louis Le Prince has been cruelly treated by history.
We will be helped in this endeavour by film historians Stephen Herbert, Mark Rance and Richard Howells. Tony Earnshaw who wrote the book MADE IN YORKSHIRE will appear in the film and Mark Cousins who is the one of the few leading film writers to mention Louis Le Prince’s contribution to film history will accompany me to find the exact spot where the first film was actually shot. Quentin Dowse a former senior detective in East Yorkshire will be examining the evidence to try to determine what happened to Le Prince. Louise Handley, one of Yorkshire’s leading lawyers will look at legal evidence for the Le Prince claim. (All the above people have agreed in principle to take part but their appearance is subject to contract/ availability).
In the second part we will lay out the case to leading names in the film industry to see if we can convince them that Louis Le Prince did invent the moving image in Leeds. Sir Tom Courtenay, arguably Yorkshire’s greatest actor, is already in the film. Sir Ronald Harwood, the Oscar winning screenwriter, has already agreed to watch the film and to be filmed giving his views. There will be others of equal stature. I am especially keen to see if I can talk to Danny Boyle, Clio Bernard, Terry Gilliam, Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Hazanavicius, Berenice Bejo, Amanda Nevill, Steven Spielberg, Claire Denis, Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Margaret Menegoz, Christopher Nolan, Harvey Weinstein CBE and most importantly Martin Scorsese (anyone who has seen HUGO will know why) and others. I want to find out if I can convince them that film was invented in Leeds by Le Prince. (The above list is a wish list at this stage. It is possible that I am unable to persuade any of these highly distinguished filmmakers to take part).
As we delve further into this story we are already uncovering interesting elements that have not come to light before. Since the creation of the internet the Louis Le Prince story has featured, in part, on Wikipedia and IMDB but there are some aspects that are incorrect or not explored sufficiently. We have already discovered one major revelation which, with your help, we intend to explore further.
Why Make This As A Feature Length Documentary For The Cinema ?
As a documentary released in the cinema it means that within the UK the film will be reviewed by all the national press. Some of those papers and radio stations etc will also give the film editorial coverage. Thus the story of this great wrong done to Le Prince's memory will have a greater prominance than it would if it were a TV documentary lost in the schedules. This we hope will be repeated in other countries especially America and France. Interestingly we already have our first cinema booking, not in Yorkshire as you might expect but at the Triskel Christchurch, Cork, Ireland.
With your help, the story of how the first film was invented in Leeds will get out into the wider world and at last the name Louis Le Prince will go into the history books – and maybe, we will discover at long last what happened to Louis Le Prince after he stepped onto the Dijon to Paris train all those years ago……
What Do We Need ?
We wish to raise £20,000 to pay to go to the USA to interview leading figures in the film world. At present we do not have the funds to cover this. Le Prince had the foresight to identify the importance of America as he chose to demonstrate his invention not in Paris or London but in New York. He was awarded American citizenship before he died and he realised, before anyone else in films, that the US would be very important to the advancement of the moving image.
Ideally, if we can raise as much as £40,000, which we would like, then we can afford a better post-production finish for the film and spend more time on the main shoot. This is not vital but it helps with telling the story effectively and we feel we owe it to the memory of Louis Le Prince to do the best we can to restore his place in the history of film.
Even after the film is out I will not stop until a statue is erected in Leeds to Louis Le Prince. It is shameful that, apart from the internet where truth will always surface somewhere, he is left out of the history books.
The film is dedicated to the late, great Bingham Ray who loved this story and who Mike Leigh best described as “that most radical and independent of American independent movie folk”. I am hoping he would have also loved the finished film.