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Frenchman Marius Sestier (1862-1934) may be regarded as the first cinematographer to work in Australia in that he shot, processed, and exhibited the first moving film shot in Australia.
Sestier held the sole franchise for Lumière equipment, and his first project in Australia was in late September and early October 1896, when, together with (Henry) Walter Barnett, his new business partner, he shot scenes around Sydney Harbour, including a short documentary film called Passengers Leaving SS Brighton at Manly, which is still in existence.
On 31 October 1896, Sestier filmed scenes at the AJC Derby at Flemington, and footage of that still exists - including the short excerpt on this doco.
The following Tuesday, 3 November 1896, Sestier filmed the Melbourne Cup, and even managed to get a long shot of the running of the race. The Governor appeared, among other worthies. The film was preserved in suitable storage in Paris, so it is all still in good condition. It premiered at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, then ran at the Criterion Theatre in Sydney for three months.
Sally Jackson (writing for the NFSA) suggests that Patineur grotesque, shot by Sestier in Prince Alfred Park in 1896, is Australia's earliest surviving film.
Sestier returned to France in 1897 and continued to work for Lumière.
THE AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION
A search for the provenance of original frères Lumière films in the NFSA’s collection revealed a direct link to Marius Sestier through a Franco-Australian family in Perth. The Antoine family held the films until the 1950s when they passed out of their care, resurfacing in 1979 as part of an STW9 documentary Our French Connection. The Antoine connection was through an uncle, Monsieur Georges Boivin, who acquired the films directly from Marius Sestier in 1897. Through a daughter, Julie Dyson, the family are kindly making available documents and photographs relating to Sestier’s time in Australia.
Edmond Antoine married Alice Boivin, the sister of Georges Boivin, which is how the films came to be looked after by the Antoine family. Julie Dyson is the eldest child of Edmond and Alice. (Her husband, John, is the great-grandson of pioneer colonist James Dyson.)
Twelve canisters of film were found under the floorboards in the Bank of NSW building on the corner of High and Cliff Street Fremantle in 1979. The films had been shot by Marius Sestier. When he departed from Australia in 1897, he left the films with his colleague, Georges Boivin, who gave them to his brother-in-law, Edmond Antoine, who bought the building from the Bank in 1927 through his company the Swan Wool Scouring Company. It may have Jean, Edmond's eldest son, who stored the films in the cellar there, as he ran the business. The location would have been chosen because cellulose nitrate tends to disintegrate and even self-ignite if not kept in appropriate stable conditions, such as underground. For more of the story, read Sally Jackson's articles (below).
Passengers Alighting from Ferry Brighton at Manly, short documentary, 24 November
New South Wales Horse Artillery in Action, short documentary, 24 November
Patineur Grotesque, short comedy
Victoria Derby, with Lady Brassey, sport documentary, filmed 31 October
Racegoers at Flemington Station, Melbourne
The Melbourne Cup, with Henry Walter Barnett, Lord Brassey, sport documentary, 24 November
The photo of Sestier was taken by Walter Barnett.
I also acknowledge with gratitude the help given to me by Julie Dyson with information about her great-uncle, Georges Boivin.
Jackson, Sally 2010, 'Patineur Grotesque: Marius Sestier and the Lumière Cinématographe in Australia, September-November 1896', Screening the Past, 1 September.
Jackson, Sally nd, 'Marius Sestier and Australia's earliest film', NFSA.
Jackson, Sally nd, 'Salon Lumière: Australia's first cinema', NFSA.
Shirley, Graham & Brian Adams 1989, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, revised edition, Currency, Melbourne (first edition 1983).
See also: history.
Garry Gillard | New: 8 November, 2012 | Now: 22 March, 2022