The Champion: A Story of America’s First Film Town 2015
Distributed by Milestone Films & Video, PO Box 128, Harrington Park, NJ 07640-0128; 800-603-1104
Directed by Marc J. Perez
DVD, color, 88 min.
Acting, Buildings, Films, Geography, U.S. History
Date Entered: 01/29/2018Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
One hundred years ago, new technologies developed by Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers led to the birth of the motion picture industry in the United States. At the center of this nascent industry was Fort Lee, New Jersey. In the early part of the 20th century, the small town across the Hudson River from Manhattan was the home to numerous silent-era film studios. At the town’s zenith in 1915, pioneering studios such as Champion, Universal, Metro, Pathé, and Solax, as well as the performers and technicians each employed were fixtures of this company town. Within 15 years, however, as the industry changed and moved west to California, the studios of Fort Lee gradually disappeared. This short documentary traces the story of Fort Lee through the rise and fall of Champion Studios, from its earliest days to its demolition in 2013. Combining archival footage and interviews with historians and town residents, the film is an earnest plea for the acknowledgement and preservation of Fort Lee as the birthplace of the American film industry.
The remainder of this 2-disc set consists of short silent films made in and around Fort Lee and nearby Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Originally produced on nitrate film base and restored by the Library of Congress and the Fort Lee Film Commission, the films are a mix of westerns, costume dramas, and comedies. Disc 1 includes five films produced at the Champion Studio from 1910-1913 as well as a 1935 documentary titled Ghost Town: The Story of Fort Lee. Three longer silent films (The Danger Game, A Grocery Clerk’s Romance, and Robin Hood) produced at other Fort Lee studios make up the contents of Disc 2. These never before released early films are fascinating cultural artefacts. The set is of interest to film historians, film studies students, and general viewers alike.