Review by Professor Brad Chisholm, Ph.D – June 2013

The Race to Cinema website is an absolute marvel! It is essential viewing for anyone interested in the origins of the cinema, for it presents the earliest motion picture cameras as no film history book has ever been able to convey them. The website displays the work of a team of researchers and engineers, led by Gordon Trewinnard, who have meticulously recreated and tested 14 of the cameras which attempted to successfully record moving images and make cinema a commercial reality. That’s right, the replicas actually work. And they are made, not with modern materials, but with fine wood cabinetry, cast metal mechanisms, and toothed gears just as they would have existed in the 1880s and 1890s. The website devotes a detailed section to each camera that includes test footage shot on the replica which you can see twinned with surviving footage from the original camera, when surviving footage exists. Among the replicated cameras are the LePrince single lens 1888 machine, Edison’s horizontal (1891) and vertical (1892) kinetographs, and even the strange Donisthorpe/Crofts 1889 camera which most film histories fail to even mention. Each camera is also accompanied by video footage of the replica mechanism in operation—an invaluable tool for an accurate understanding. There are detailed photographs of the interior and exterior of each camera, descriptions of each camera’s history, and biographical profiles of the inventors. The overall effect is nothing short of remarkable. For more than a century, our grasp of the invention of cinema has been tenuous, dependent upon contradictory accounts, deceptive claims, incomplete patent drawings, blurred photographs, and undated frames of film. Gordon Trewinnard’s project, and this excellent website, are going to change our understanding of the cinema’s birth, and clarify the way the film origin story is told. It will no doubt be regarded as one of the great examples of reconstructive archeology of the late Victorian era. The Race to Cinema is for all intents and purposes, the closest thing we will ever have to a time machine, and I can’t wait for the world’s film students to experience it.

Brad Chisholm, Ph.D
Professor of Film History
St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, USA


Review by Dr. William Barnes – December 2013

To have a fully illustrated written account of the first attempts at photographing motion is most welcome, but to have produced exact replicas of these early cameras devised by the world’s first ‘cinematographers’ is beyond belief! A milestone in film history.

Dr William Barnes
Authority on pre-cinema and early film
London, UK


Review by Laurent Mannoni – January 2014

J’ai consulté le site. C’est un travail extraordinaire. A vrai dire, je pense que ce travail de reconstitution est la seule approche scientifique capable de nous plonger au cœur de l’invention des grands pionniers. Lire les brevets, c’est essentiel ; examiner les appareils originaux, c’est crucial (mais pas facile) ; pénétrer au cœur de la machine en la refaisant entièrement, c’est le summum ! Faire une réplique de chaque système permet de comprendre le parcours intellectuel et technique de chaque invention, de saisir les problèmes rencontrés, de comprendre l’extraordinaire ingéniosité de ces inventeurs surdoués. Pour moi, ces copies d’appareils, outre le fait qu’elles permettent de faire survivre des machines fragiles et uniques, sont des merveilleux outils de communication qui nous permettent d’éclairer parfaitement, avec une grande précision, les mécanismes d’avance de la pellicule. Tout devient lumineux, grâce à votre travail ! Quant aux films tournés avec les machines, c’est aussi une expérience formidable, car ils permettent de juger de la qualité des vues notamment en ce qui concerne la stabilité et l’équidistance des images. Félicitations !

Laurent Mannoni
Directeur scientifique du Patrimoine et du Conservatoire des techniques
Cinémathèque Française, Paris, France


Review by Professor Stephen Barber February 2014
The Race to Cinema is an extraordinary, and ongoing, achievement in explorations of early film, its technologies, cultures and locations. As well as being a deeply-researched project, it’s also an exciting and innovative one. The results of the project, both the cameras and the films they shoot, are vital evidence of the seminal moment of film’s existence.

Professor Stephen Barber
Free University Berlin, Germany and Kingston University London, UK