Meet Jacques Bolsey - the man behind a generation's worth of moving images.
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A Forgotten Inventor
“The best ideas lose their owners and take on lives of their own.” - N. Bushnell
The year was 1927, the industrial age was in full swing, and the world was falling in love with the moving picture. The craft of this new art form, however, remained elite and unattainable; It was a novelty for the masses. Enter Jacques Bolsey and his revolutionary invention – the Bolex. He introduced the world to a cinematic camera that would do no less than revolutionize the fledgling medium, shattering its shackles of high-end exclusivity and setting it free for everyday people to create and experiment.
For half a century after his death in 1962, the contents of this man’s life lay buried in a suburban basement in New York. Forgotten, his name would be omitted from textbooks, his legacy obscured, and the story of an underdog inventor left untold.
What Is This Documentary About?
“Beyond the Bolex” is a character-driven documentary about the inventor of the revolutionary Bolex camera, Jacques Bolsey. Bolsey, a Russian refugee living in neutral Switzerland during WWI, envisioned a future where everyone would have access to the tools necessary to make movies. In the 1920's, at the introduction of 16mm film, Bolsey invented the Bolex- a camera simple and flexible enough that anyone could use it. Little did Bolsey know that this invention would outlive him, and decades later his camera would be key to bringing about his dream of a future of accessible filmmaking.
After learning that her great-grandfather had invented the iconic Bolex camera, young filmmaker, Alyssa Bolsey, traces the historical trajectory of the Bolex from her great-grandfather’s invention through to its current incarnation in the digital age. Within the documentary, we will unravel the historical narrative of Jacques Bolsey’s intriguing life story of innovation, cut-throat competition and countless geo-political obstacles. As we uncover his life, we will simultaneously bring in a contemporary parallel story of two young inventors who are currently taking Bolsey’s vision into the 21st Century with their digital version, the Digital Bolex.
While Bolsey’s story will be the focus for the majority of the documentary, the addition of the Digital Bolex subplot and their contemporary methods of innovation using new technology such as 3D Printing, will allow us to follow how a seed of an early idea continues on and is molded and influenced by many hands and technologies over time.
“Beyond the Bolex” uses the contemporary eyes of Bolsey’s great-granddaughter and the modern entrepreneurial spirit of Digital Bolex to explore an innovative past that established a foundation of democratized filmmaking with significant parallels to our rapidly changing present. Within this documentary we dig into the history of an inventor’s ideas, the cascade of innovations that he unknowingly sparked decades after his death, and the lives that were touched along the way.
How Did This Project Come To Be? The Director's Story
On a cold Spring morning in 2004, following a family memorial, I came across my great-grandfather's dusty suitcases and boxes full of paperwork that hadn't been touched for decades. My great-grandfather, Jacques Bogopolsky/Boolsky/Bolsky/Bolsey had died in 1962, long before I was born and his name was one that was rarely mentioned growing up. Surrounded by my family, we slowly picked apart his massive archive. Instead of the expected discoveries of typical photo albums we found bundles of blueprints, Depression era projectors, reels of film and prototypes of old cameras emblazoned with my last name. It was in this moment that I learned that my great-grandfather, Jacques Bolsey, had invented one of the most iconic cameras of all time: the famous “Bolex” camera. Surrounding me was essentially the inventor’s workshop, with a roadmap of how he had envisioned the future of filmmaking. I studied the films that he shot while testing his inventions over four tumultuous decades, spanning the Great Depression, two World Wars and realized that he had left behind a crucial story in film history. As a young filmmaker, there is no greater treasure that I could have found, and in that moment "Beyond the Bolex" was born.
For this film we have all encompassing media access to Bolsey’s life with over 40 films dating back to the 1920’s, including his professional films and home movies. His archive brings the inventor's spirit to life as he turned the camera on himself and became an international pioneer in amateur filmmaking. His films epitomize the casual filmmaking style that is ubiquitous today thanks to point and shoot cameras, camera phones and digital camera technology. It is a fascinating time in our history to examine the life, motivations and odyssey of our larger-than-life subject, Jacques Bolsey. Not only was he a visionary character whose camera inspired some of the most respected filmmakers alive today, but he was also an enigma of his own creation. We hope to take audiences into his world and we hope that they will leave thinking about theirs.
Today we live at the cusp of a transition between film and digital technology. Jacques Bolsey was a pioneer of filmmaking. His legacy is in danger of fading into obscurity as the industry continues to move away from the technologies that he created and moves evermore into the digital age. As the industry forges forward and embraces the new possibilities that digital technology has to offer, we have an incredible opportunity RIGHT NOW to document the process of the Digital Bolex team as they stand at the precipice of their camera's release. The path of the Digital Bolex inventors parallels the one that Bolsey laid almost a hundred years before as they push the evolution of the Bolex into a new age. We want to be there to capture it.
There is also a sense of urgency to begin production on this story right away due to the fact that there are very few people alive today that actually knew the man, and speaking with them is a top priority.
What Is Our Timetable?
To date, we have conducted preliminary interviews with historians, archivists, and with executives at Bolex Corporation and have forged a cooperative relationship with them in bringing this story to the screen. In addition, we have shot several hours of exploratory footage with family members in order to create a development teaser for fundraising. While doing research at Bolex International in Yverdon, Switzerland, we coincidentally discovered that there is a present day parallel to the Jacques Bolsey story, in the form of a new camera... the Digital Bolex.
Our goal is to begin full production by May / June 2013 and to finish shooting the film this year. We have already started shooting interviews with the Digital Bolex team as they prepare to release their camera. We plan to follow their progress throughout the year.
Another priority for us is to interview some of the most respected filmmakers working today to talk to them about how the Bolex has impacted their work. We are already working to introduce Beyond the Bolex to legendary filmmakers whom we hope to interview.
"So...Who Do You Want To Interview?"
We hope to interview major filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, as well as film school students, independent filmmakers, historians, camera company executives, and cinema archivists.
"How Will You Use My Donation?"
Another good question! All of the funds that we raise on Kickstarter will be spent on production: Travel expenses to interview Bolsey's family members, historians, Bolex collectors, and respected filmmakers who are passionate about the camera. We will use the funds to rent cameras, lighting and sound equipment, and pay for crew costs.
Thank you so much for your contribution to "Beyond the Bolex." Your support will help us introduce Jacques Bolsey to a 21st Century audience.
How Does Kickstarter Work?
1) Check out our great perks on the right hand side of your screen and select a donation level. Click the button and follow the prompts to donate directly to help us reach our goal.
2) You can also share our campaign with your friends and family on Facebook or Twitter. This is a great way to contribute to our campaign whether or not you are able to donate.
This Is Important
We're only allowed to keep your donation if we meet our goal. It’s all or nothing. So if you believe in this idea enough to support it, please, please, please take another moment to post about it. Sixty seconds of your time can make a big difference ~ if you think it is important enough to mention, your friends will take the time to look for themselves.
Just For Fun
An added bonus for reading through our Kickstarter rewards is that you'll learn about Jacques Bolsey's camera innovations. We named each perk after one of Bolsey's cameras. Here is a little more trivia about each camera...
Level 1 -The Cinegraphe-Bol: Invented in 1919, this was one of the earliest 35mm motion picture cameras for amateur movie making and a camera the everyday person could use to make moving images. Soon thereafter, Bolsey would begin developing the Bolex.
Level 2- The Cine Fader: A small automatic accessory designed for fading in and out.
Level 3- The Bolex Auto Cine A: Released in 1927, the first camera produced under the Bolex name. With this camera, Bolsey had hopes of further democratizing filmmaking.
Level 4- Swiss Alpa: A 35mm high-quality reflex range finder combination camera.
Level 5- Bolex H16 : The famous H16! What filmmaker hasn’t used this 16mm camera?
Level 6- The Renaissance Man: Jacques Bolsey, in addition to being a camera inventor, was also an artist, medical student and creator of dozens of non-photographic equipment. Among his inventions was one of the first coin operated telephones, as well as designs for an electric car he completed shortly before his sudden death in 1962.
Level 7- N-9 Ariel Combat Camera – Produced for the US government, the N-9 was an electrically operated 24-29 volt DC motion picture camera for aerial combat.
Level 8- Bolsey 8mm/Uniset Camera: This was an 8mm camera released in the 1950’s. Billed at the time as the ‘world’s smallest movie camera,’ it was reputed to have been a favorite of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Smaller than a pack of cigarettes (and the iPhone,) this still/motion picture camera was far ahead of its time.
Level 9- Bolsey 35mm Still Camera Series: These cameras set a new trend in design that was followed by American, European and Japanese manufacturers.
Level 10- The Camera Club: In addition to being an inventor, Bolsey was a filmmaking pioneer and helped found cinema clubs in Switzerland.
Level 11- The Camera Maker: You, too, are a visionary!
Level 12- The Film Pioneer: Your contribution will truly bring this story to life. Thank you for helping us to tell this story!
HOW ELSE CAN I HELP? WHAT IF CONTRIBUTING FINANCIALLY ISN'T AN OPTION FOR ME?
There are many ways in which you can help us with this project. It may take the form of selecting a perk level and contributing financially or, also important, by sharing our project with friends, family and co-workers. Here's how:
Help us find people to write about the project
Do you have any ideas for bloggers we should reach out to? Let us know!
Use the SHARE buttons (you'll find them below the video) to share this campaign on Facebook and/or Twitter. For Twitter use #bolexinventordoc.
Use the EMBED button (below the video) to embed our Kickstarter video on your blog, Facebook, etc.
Email friends, family, co-workers or anyone you think might be interested. This is one of the most powerful things you can do!
Do all of the above again throughout the duration of the campaign.
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Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
As with most documentaries, financing is one of the largest hurdles. In addition to Kickstarter, we are actively applying for film grants and have forged relationships with producing partners in Switzerland to bring the film to fruition. With decades worth of experience between them, our producing partners at Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion and AKKA Films have produced dozens of films and are determined to help us bring this story to the screen.
Another challenge we face is that time pressures sometimes dictate when and where we must shoot. In documentaries, the story evolves as the subject's lives change (in our case, we will be following the the evolving Digital Bolex story as events unfold). When something exciting is happening, we need to be there and ready to roll camera - sometimes at a moment's notice. One of our solutions to this challenge will be to work efficiently to manage both the time pressures and travel requirements of this film.
Filming will take place at the Bolsey family home in Massachusetts, at numerous locations within Switzerland and within the US. Our priority will be to maximize each trip in order to fit in as many interviews as possible and to get the most value from each shooting excursion. To help us oversee the European leg of filming, we have teamed up with a Swiss documentary producer that will help us assemble local crew and assist us in gathering all of the things we will need (at the lowest possible price) when we are shooting in Europe. At home we will be resourceful and build relationships with industry professionals and seek sponsorships for equipment rentals and services whenever possible. We embrace DIY filmmaking and will continue to go to great lengths when needed to stretch every dollar. If we reach our Kickstarter goal, you've already helped us substantially in overcoming that hurdle as there are several shoots we have planned in the upcoming few months. We will use the funds we raise to rent cameras, lighting and sound equipment, and pay for crew costs.
In every phase of filmmaking there are roadblocks, but we have assembled a passionate and experienced team of documentary filmmakers who are committed to seeing the project through. Thank you so much for your support!
Hanging with the Digital Bolex team at the trade show - Convention Center Exhibit Hall 3, Booth #311