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Film digs into family history

Woman discovers her great-grandfather invented a groundbreaking camera.

December 09, 2011|By Maria Hsin,

A La Crescenta woman is on a mission to solve a mystery involving a man with three last names for each of the three countries he lived in. The inventor, artist, filmmaker, medical student and businessman was born in Russia in 1895, and he would eventually create the Bolex line of cameras.

The cameras have been used by professional filmmakers as well as those who simply wanted to document their lives. Jacques Bolsey's desire to bring filmmaking capability to the masses first came to life in 1914 with the Cinegraph-Bol 35mm motion-picture camera. His iconic Bolex followed in 1924.

Alyssa Bolsey, the inventor's great-granddaughter and a 2007 graduate of the San Diego State University School of Theatre, Television and Film, has been piecing together his life since 2004. Her research and quest for information will be part of a documentary project she hopes to release in 2013.


The 27-year-old Bolsey said she discovered her great-grandfather invented the same camera she happened to be learning about in a film class. “I went to film school and didn't have any idea my great-grandfather invented this camera that most film schools use still today,” Bolsey said.

When her grandfather died about seven years ago, she discovered he had saved a lot of Jacques Bolsey's belongings.

“There were 10 to 20 boxes full of cameras and documents dating to 1914,” Bolsey said. “Some of the photographs are from before the turn of the century, and I read that he invented Bolex.”

The name immediately rung a bell.

“I was reading about Bolex in Robert Rodriguez's book ‘Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player' where he discusses using that camera,” Bolsey said. “Slowly I started realizing what a big deal that was.”

Bolsey initially told only a handful of people about the experience and shared her story with a few of her film professors. Her professors provided her with American Cinematographer magazine articles in which cinematographers discussed the Bolex as the first camera they used.

“Almost every cinematographer has used it in their career,” Bolsey said. “Big directors started with it, [including] Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez. It was that camera that anybody could get their hands on. And so if they wanted to experiment with filmmaking, they could use it.”

Bolsey likened it to the ubiquitous, bulky camcorders that used VHS tapes.

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