In an old, sepia-tinged photograph, Benjamin Brodsky sits, arms folded tightly against his chest, giving away - it would appear - nothing much at all. And that sense of mystery has followed the man for nearly 100 years. Now fresh evidence has emerged about the life and times of Brodsky, revealing him to be the raconteur who introduced cinema to Hong Kong, and casting fresh light on just when it was that Hong Kong produced its very first films. At the centre of it all sits a photo - taken in November 1914 - of Brodsky sitting surrounded by his partners in the China Cinema Co, Hong Kong's first film production house. That date is when the company was officially registered but, apart from the stone-faced Brodsky, whose family has produced the photo, nothing else is known about the other men. And so film historians Law Kar and Frank Bren are hoping someone, somewhere can help them identify Brodsky's partners - and confirm the very origins of cinema in Hong Kong. 'What we have here are nine mysterious Chinese businessmen,' Bren says. 'Finding out who they are will help us find out more about the China Cinema Co and more - hopefully - about when the first films were made in Hong Kong.' On face value, at least, it now seems that Brodsky and his crew were responsible for making and screening newsreels and feature films in 1914 - beginning with The Sport of Kings, featuring a day's racing at Happy Valley and, later in the year, a film version of a stage play titled The Defamation of Choung Chow. That film, Bren and Law say, is the definitive 'first' Hong Kong feature and was followed in the same year by The Haunted Pot, The Sanpan Man's Dream and The Trip of the Roast Duck - the film originally thought by many to be Hong Kong's first, the notion being that it was released in 1909. Hong Kong last year acknowledged that with celebrations to mark its cinema centenary. But the new information has come to light thanks to Bren and Law's research - and through the help of Brodsky's family in the United States, including his last remaining son, Ronald Borden, whom they were able to find after almost a decade of searching. The pair were then able to read Brodsky's as-yet unpublished autobiography God's Country and uncover a newspaper interview - from the San Francisco Chronicle dated 1914 - with a certain Roland Van Velzer, the man Brodsky hired to come to Hong Kong and work as his cameraman. Van Velzer confirmed the dates and names (and spellings) of the films. It all simply adds to the allure of Brodsky, apparently a one-time lion tamer who lost his fortune in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, left for Shanghai, where he introduced China to its first cinemas, before heading south to try his luck in Hong Kong. He would later become a neighbour and close friend of the legendary American filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, who at one stage wanted to film a version of Brodsky's life. 'Brodsky was a showman,' Law says. 'So there are many and different stories about who he was and what he did. But this new evidence seems more certain than anything we have had before. And we know for a fact that Brodsky's travel documentary A Trip Through China was shot in the years 1914-16 and was released to great acclaim in the US in 1916.' That film - copies of which still exist - saw Brodsky feted by officials on the mainland and given access to the Forbidden City and even a 'slow strangulation' execution. 'It screened all over the country for the next three years and was Hong Kong's first international box office hit,' Law says. 'And it was a co-production between Hong Kong and international filmmakers - something that is now once again all the rage.' Sadly, no traces have yet been found of Hong Kong cinema's other earliest works - much of the city's film stocks were melted down for their nitrate content during the Japanese occupation of 1941-45. Bren and Law combined to produce the book Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-Cultural View (2004) and have been researching the history of the city's cinema since they first met at the film festival in 1992. 'It is only really in the past year that we have been able to get a clearer picture of who Brodsky was and to confirm to a degree what he was working on in Hong Kong and in China,' Bren explains. 'The pieces are only just now falling in to place.' Brodsky put together the epic, 10-reel The Empress Dowager and helped launch the filmmaking career of the likes of the 'Father of Hong Kong cinema', Lai Man-wai. But it seems Brodsky's ambitions were undone by unrest in China, which led to a lack of funds and later saw him move to Japan and back to the US. And for the most part, his story remained untold. 'Chinese cinema history is something that has not really been explored until recently,' Bren says. 'The fact that not much of it remains means it has been difficult to separate fact from fiction.' Hopefully, then, the China Cinema Co photo will spark memories. 'Hong Kong celebrated 100 years of cinema last year,'' Law says. 'But maybe if we can get further confirmation of all these facts we can have an even bigger celebration in 2014.'