Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers

A fascinating and entertaining look at cinema in its infancy, with 60 short films from the BFI National Archive.

The BFI’s fascinating collection of 60 short films all made before 1911 comes to DVD with the aim of giving wider access to some of the extraordinary film material held in the BFI National Archive, much of which has been restored. Although most films made at this time were actualities and newsreels, this collection contains mostly fiction films, ranging from the dramatic to the comic and the fantastical.

This double disc set provides an entertaining look at how many film techniques such as the close-up, the cut-away and editing, were first invented by film-makers before the turn of the century.

Amongst the many gems in this compilation are:

  • 13 shorts by the Lumiere brothers, which formed the first projected film show to a paying public in Britain — at Regent Street Polytechnic in 1896.
  • George Melies’s Voyage a travers l’impossible.
  • Birt Acres’s Rough Sea at Dover.
  • Nine films by the Pathe Brothers, including Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs and an example of early film voyeurism in Peeping Tom.
  • Five films from the Hepworth Company, including the highly successful kidnapping drama Rescued by Rover.
  • An actuality publicity film commissioned by the biscuit company Peek Frean & Co.
  • A Day in the Life of a Coalminer, a documentary produced by the Kineto Production Company in 1910.
  • From the Edison Company; Dewar’s It’s Scotch (reputedly the first advertising film), Edwin S Porter’s The Gay Shoe Clerk, The Great Train Robbery and the popular The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (adapted from Winsor McCay’s comicstrip).

There are also films by R W Paul, George Albert Smith, Sheffield Photographic Company, Walter Haggar, James Bamforth and James A Williamson. New improvised scores provided by Neil Brand, John Sweeney and Stephen Horne, pianists at BFI Southbank, accompany the films.

Special features

  • Voiceover commentary written by film historian Barry Salt.
  • 24-page illustrated booklet with filmmaker biographies and film notes.

Product information

    • Certificate


    • Colour


    • Sound

      Silent with music

    • Running time


    • Subtitles

      English for the hard-of-hearing

    • Original aspect ratio


    • DVD region

      • 2 Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories

    • Catalogue number


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