Unearthing the largely forgotten story of the world’s first female film director.
At the dawn of the film industry, Alice Guy was a secretary at France’s Gaumont, but her pioneering forays into filmmaking soon led to her taking on the role of head of production for the fledgling film company. Beyond being recognized as the first woman to direct a film, she is also considered, by some accounts, to be the originator of narrative storytelling in the nascent medium. After more than a decade with Gaumont, including relocating to oversee production for the company’s US office, Guy married, and with her husband formed the Solax Company in Flushing NY, where she took the role of artistic director, once again breaking new ground as the first woman to run her own film studio. In over two decades, she was responsible for an estimated 1000 films, and though she continued to lecture on cinema after the advent of the talkies, Guy-Blaché was relegated to the footnotes of cinema history for decades. While film scholars have attempted to correct this oversight in recent years, she still remains virtually unknown. Learning of her story, director Pamela Green and co-director Jarik van Sluijs set out to change that, reintroducing her to today’s filmmakers and film audiences.
Green and van Sluijs are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for funding to complete a rough cut. With a week and half to go, they’ve reached nearly a quarter of their ambitious $200,000 goal but could obviously use the support of any interested readers to try to make their target. For more information, visit the project’s website.
While cinema studies programs have not forgotten Guy-Blaché – I first learned of her at NYU in the late 1990s – it’s safe to say that she’s not as popularly known as other early film pioneers like the Lumière brothers, Edison, Méliès, or Porter. Though there are countless other filmmakers, performers, and behind-the-scenes collaborators from the era who suffer the same unfortunate present-day obscurity, Guy-Blaché’s accomplishments cry out for greater rediscovery and acknowledgement, especially given the persistent gender gap that exists in film directing. While I’m typically wary of filmmakers appearing in their films, the quest structure Green and van Sluijs seem to be imposing on their project may do a fair bit to elevate it from history lesson to something more urgent and engaging for modern audiences. I’m curious to see how they tell her story, and how viewers connect with it.
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