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The Hon Peter Garrett MP
Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts

Australian first premiere for Australia's earliest known surviving film

Media release
16 March 2010

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Arts Minister Peter Garrett today announced that the earliest known surviving film made in Australia has been found and restored to the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra.

The film Patineur Grotesque (or the Humorous Rollerskater), is believed to have been shot in late October 1896 by Lumiere cinematographer Marius Sestier just days prior to the 1896 Melbourne Cup Carnival.

"This is a very exciting find and an important piece of our nation's cinematic history. It features some of the earliest images of Australia caught on film and its discovery is a credit to the determination and skill of the curatorial staff at the NFSA.

"Patineur Grotesque also helps fill a missing link in global cinematic history, acknowledged as a forerunner to the work of two of cinema's earliest comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder," Mr Garrett said.

Mr Garrett said today's screening at the NFSA in Canberra, was the first time the film had been shown in Australia.

"While Sestier's other films were a fixture of all his shows throughout Australia at the time, there is no record of this film ever having been shown here.

"Amazingly however, it was screened across Europe and as far away as Mexico, making it one of the first films to broadcast images of Australia abroad."

Mr Garrett said Patineur Grotesque, like the other 10 original Lumiere films held in the NFSA's collection, were shot on a rare 35mm film format which has been obsolete since the early 1900s.

"In a credit to their ingenuity, NFSA technicians built special tools and modified standard equipment to copy and preserve the film. Adapting film copying equipment to run the unique Lumiere format had never been done before in Australia, and has only been achieved a handful of times around the world," Mr Garrett said.

"I am very pleased that through their efforts we will now be able to conserve and preserve all of Sestier's early films for future generations to enjoy and study," Mr Garrett said.

The film is one minute long and the action takes place in the centre of the frame. A man in costume and on rollerskates performs for a gathering crowd. As part of the act the skater trips and falls, then drops his hat. As he attempts to retrieve the hat he continues to fall about. When finally the hat is restored to his head the act comes to a halt.

The film Patineur Grotesque is available for viewing at the NFSA's australianscreenonline website 

Commonwealth of Australia