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April 16, 2013

'Beyond the Bolex': a Kickstarter Documentary About Jacques Bolsey, Inventor of the Bolex Film Camera

This is a guest post by Alyssa Bolsey.

First things first, you want to make a movie and you need a camera, right? The options are endless and it feels like there is a new camera coming out every couple of months! What to do? After you’ve done all your research, you either buy one, rent one, or most likely (as in my case) you beg until someone will let you borrow theirs for a few days. Ahhh… Such is the life of an indie filmmaker. Now, imagine a time when there wasn’t an affordable camera to buy, borrow or rent because independent filmmaking didn’t exist and therefore, a camera for the independent filmmaker didn’t exist. This is Beyond the Bolex, the story of the man responsible for the beginning of independent filmmaking and the inventor of the Bolex motion picture film camera, Jacques Bolsey.

No Camera? What?!

100 years ago, 18 year-old still photography fanatic/medical student/artist Jacques Bolsey wanted to make a movie. Problem was, it was 1913 and motion picture cameras were not accessible for budding filmmakers like himself. So what did he do? He invented a series of cameras for amateurs, culminating in the revolutionary Bolex camera in the late 1920’s. Bolsey’s dream was that one day in the future, everyone would be able to make movies, and he spent his life innovating towards that end. Little did he know that one day his dream would come true, and that his story would be revealed at the same time, in a documentary using his own films.

Several years ago, on a break from film school to attend a family memorial, I stumbled upon the inventor’s forgotten archive mixed in with my grandfather’s belongings. It was at that moment that I discovered that my grandfather’s father, my great-grandfather, Jacques Bolsey, had invented the Bolex. Talk about a family secret! Although Bolsey the man had largely been forgotten to history, the Bolex camera had completely transformed the industry and led the way to cinéma vérité filmmaking. Later, it would be the camera of choice for a surge of young independent filmmakers, including such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Peter Jackson, Spike Lee and David Lynch. Over the decades, millions of people would learn their craft on this camera. It would also be the camera that my generation, which appears these days to be the last generation to learn intro to film with actual film, would be using in film school as well.

How was I, a lowly film student at the time, going to use this material to fill this gaping hole in film history? I was going to make a goddamn documentary to uncover my great-grandfather’s story, that’s what I was going to do! Using what money? Heck if I knew… Jacques Bolsey had died unknown and practically bankrupt. But looking on the bright side, I knew where I could get a camera!

Innovation

Ever since the moment I picked up his 1927 Bolex camera, I have researched and set out to tell Jacques Bolsey’s story of technological innovation, personal reinvention, and to uncover a forgotten chapter in independent filmmaking. In doing so, the scope of the project has changed tremendously. Rather than simply being a bio piece, the documentary Beyond the Bolex will now trace the Bolex camera’s trajectory from Bolsey’s original archival materials to the camera’s current reincarnation in the digital age, through the still developing story of the Digital Bolex. The way I see it, the idea behind the Bolex camera was just a seed of an idea. An idea to create a tool that was simple yet flexible. A tool that the everyday person could use to experiment and create on the level of professionals. This idea has been shaped and transformed for generations, long after it left Bolsey’s hands, but that is what I want to track. How an idea can outlive its inventor to continue to grow indefinitely through the ideas of others. And this, my friends, is one advantage to the never-ending task of fundraising for a documentary. Sometimes, during the seemingly endless lulls of fundraising, unexpected twists to your story smack you right upside the head!

Digital Bolex 

Ahhh… the Digital Bolex. I’m sure you have heard of it! A couple of young filmmakers wishing for greater access to professional filmmaking tools and deciding rather than to wait for someone else to invent it, they would innovate a solution themselves. The goal -- a camera that resembles the experience of shooting 16mm film, but for a digital filmmaking community.

The Digital Bolex storyline quite frankly walked itself right into the narrative of my documentary and unabashedly invited itself to the party. After having already spent years, off and on, researching for Beyond the Bolex, there I was January 2012 in Switzerland at Bolex International, interviewing the current operations manager. He kindly showed me around the place and informed me that although he constantly gets requests for information on the early development of the Bolex camera, all of the materials had vanished and he, unfortunately, had no further information on my great-grandfather or the early development of the H16. Gahhh! I had found some information in my great-grandfather’s archive but I had hoped to fill in some gaps! After uncomfortably shuffling in place, trying to figure out where to go from there, I spontaneously asked, “Well, you know Kodak declared bankruptcy last week, so what’s next for Bolex? Are you guys going digital?” A smirk crossed his lips and he said, “Well, it is certainly a possibility, but nothing I can discuss at this moment.” One month later, I was back at my home in Los Angeles and one morning, was suddenly inundated by emails about the new Digital Bolex that had been announced at SXSW. And you know what? They had been quietly developing this camera only miles from my house in LA for over a year and I had no idea!

So what’s next? Well, we’ll be finishing our Kickstarter campaign in just a few days. Then, assuming we reach our goal, we can finally begin the “fun” stuff, actually traveling and shooting interviews with people who knew Jacques Bolsey, documenting Digital Bolex’s journey towards completing and releasing their camera, connecting with filmmakers who have fond memories of their experiences with the original Bolex camera, and talking to people who are using it to this day. Not too shabby a harvest to reap from that original seed of an idea so many years ago!

To learn more about Beyond the Bolex and to help bring it to the screen, please visit our Kickstarter page and consider pledging and spreading the word! The campaign ends this Friday, April 19th, at 7PM PST/10PM EST.

Link: Beyond the Bolex -- Kickstarter

Your Comment

22 Comments

this was cool until digital bolex made an appearance.

April 16, 2013

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david

This is a very cool story, indeed. I was able to talk to Digital Bolex creator Joe Rubinstein last week at NAB in Las Vegas. He is a very cool fellow, and great to chat with. It was nice to discover that he is just as passionate about cameras and old-school filmmaking as the nerds he's designing the Digital Bolex for. There is a two-part interview with him talking about the camera as well as the software and DNG workflow posted on my website at AF100Central.com

April 16, 2013

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Thanks for reading and posting! Looking forward to bringing you the documentary :) Joe has some awesome 16mm stories... He does love 16mm, I agree about that!

April 16, 2013

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Hey Koo and Crew, thank you supporting this intriguing documentary!

Though I'm a fan of the new D-16, etc etc, blah blah, the history of the original Film Bolex is what appeals to me more.

How and where did Mr. Bosley manufacture? How did he get seed money? etc etc...

It might be a fun community research project, just to try and find public records and whatnot?

Did he secure patents? Were they in present day EU?

Well, the list goes on and on-I'm a history buff.

Thanks again, guys!

April 16, 2013

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Lord Bronco - Tried to keep the article as short as possible and didn't mention the story on how I DID find out where a lot of the lost paperwork is... Lots of fun stuff. Feuding between Jacques Bolsey and Paillard and the letters that passed between them... old schematics... A lot of this will be appearing in the documentary ;) As far is where Bolsey got some of his funding... I do have one of his earliest bank loan certificates from 1915. This archive really is quite substantial! Not to mention his journal from the time he was developing the Bolex which does go into some interesting details... all will be revealed in the doc.

April 16, 2013

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Cool guy indeed ... he got 460 000 $ on the promise of delivering a camera on august 2012 the "digital bolex". We're in april 2013 and no sign of the camera but "a lot of improvements on the way" - looks to me like a huge scam !

April 16, 2013

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guy gee

You mean, like all the same things that happened to RED before they brought their first camera to market? Be a skeptic if you like, but calling someone a scam artist because they missed their initial projected deadline is a little severe. I've seen the camera in person, seen the software, and seen footage from it. Joe was there at NAB talking to people and giving demonstrations. I've also seen the lenses that the Digital Bolex people have designed for the D16 in conjunction with Kish Optics. The camera is real, and will be awesome. I am planning to demand that they take my money for one as soon as they launch.

April 16, 2013

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From reading Bolsey's journal from when he was first finishing up the Bolex in the 1920's. The first run was just a small run of cameras but it was rough getting them out and there were many pitfalls along the way. But look where the Bolex has gone over the decades! Innovation is rough and seeing that journey will be an eyeopening part of the documentary. Bringing a product from an idea to the market is a journey. With huge corporations pouring millions into their products these days, it is easy to forget about that journey. Plus they have well paid PR people to smooth out the rough edges(well at least try to). I don't think it is bad that we have large companies, quite the contrary because they can do some incredible stuff. But it would be a sad day when the average person couldn't take an idea to market through hard work and passion. It may take a little longer, but ... what can you do?

April 16, 2013

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Thanks for checking out the article! Please make sure to spread the word about the Kickstarter campaign! There are so many interesting stories I didn't have space to write about. We need the support of the indie filmmaking community to get this done! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cappuccino/beyond-the-bolex-a-docume...

April 16, 2013

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Great, so if we've got a kickstarter we can spam you with a promo and just call it our guest post? I'll keep that in mind

April 16, 2013

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Ronald

We live in cynical times. Sad that mention of the Digital Bolex has hi-jacked this comment section on an otherwise interesting article on a piece of film history. There are countless companies both large and small who make product announcements and then take awhile to deliver the product to market, RED, BlackMagic, RedRock Micro and even Canon, Sony and Nikon have all had this happen in the past. Why do these multi-million dollar corporations get a pass on this and the little guys get a public execution?

If another year goes by without a working product appearing or the folks behind this disappear then perhaps there are grounds for calls of "scam" etc. but until then, how about cutting them some slack? Have any of you ever designed a new product and brought it to market? No, didn't so.

April 16, 2013

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Neil

+1

April 16, 2013

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Kraig

No i didn't release any new product ... but on the other end i never asked for money for something i did promised to release last august. You can check their kicksarter page :

$100,000 is the bare minimum we need to produce the first batch of cameras. If we reach $200,000 we can include a suite of post-processing software with the camera package to manage RAW workflow.

If the campaign is successful, the first 100 cameras will be available in August.

they got 260 000 $, great but seriously you need a lot more cash in order to pay the R&D and the initial cost of production in order to manufacture a new camera.

April 21, 2013

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guy gee

Agreed Neil! Let's get the convo back to the story behind the Bolex! It was really interesting to read what Lord Bronco is interested in and what questions he has about the history. Whether I end up addressing them in the doc or not, it is good to know what questions are out there. If anyone has specific questions or aspects of the story that interest you, I'd love to hear them. As I mentioned in the article, the story is constantly evolving.

April 16, 2013

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Actually, i think I'll scamper over to the DB forums and start a thread there.

April 16, 2013

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Good idea! I'll sign up tonight and scamper over myself!

April 16, 2013

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this is fuckin awesome.

April 16, 2013

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francis

This is something I would definitely like to see completed. It's rare that we stumble upon footage from our great grandparents...let alone footage like this! The inventor of the BOLEX? Holy toledo!

April 17, 2013

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Zoe

Thanks Bolsey. Please don't let those people use the Bolex name.
The Digital Bolex is like a BlackMagic Pocket Camera in a Hipster package.

April 17, 2013

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Tulio

Use of the name was granted by Bolex International:

www.bolex.ch

April 17, 2013

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Thyl Engelhardt

Doesn't look too well. Hope you can get in the funds and will try to donate something. Maybe, a longer term would have been better.

April 17, 2013

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Thyl Engelhardt

I currently teach Film Production using Bolex H-16's and El's. Love them.

April 17, 2013

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Ron