Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photo by Boby Dimitrov

Filmmaker Unearthed:

The Fairy in the Cabbage Patch

As I throw another log on the fire (I’m cold) my thoughts turn to filmmaking and fiery stars in the industry. You know, those women filmmakers who blazed (right, my thoughts are on warm things) the way for the rest of us. I’m trying to remember who the first woman filmmaker was. Okay, I’d even settle for being able to name 5 important women directors. But as embarrassing as this is to admit, I don’t know much about earlier, or even modern, female filmmakers.

Which brings me to this post, the embarking post for Filmmaker Unearthed where I delve into history and share my findings with you. I’ll do the digging and then you can sit back, cozy up with your computer and learn all about some neat people.

The first filmmaker I’d like to introduce you to (if you haven’t heard of her already) is French, born in 1873, credited as the first woman director, owned her own studio in the U.S. and has a claim to the title of first narrative film director.

What? I know, right. Turns out filmmaking has been a woman’s thing from its inception.

Alice Guy-Blaché (a-LEES ghee)


Imagine you’re a secretary at a still-photography studio in late 19th century France and your boss, Leon Gaumont, has his hands on a fancy dancy filmmaking apparatus. What do you do? Why, convince him to let you make a film of course! Alice’s film career was longer than a quarter of a century (I’m making you do math now) and she directed, wrote screenplays and produced for hundreds of films.

Her first of hundreds was “The Cabbage Fairy.” The 60-second film was created by Alice Guy in 1896 and launched her film career. Around this time the photography studio she worked for closed and Alice’s boss Gaumont formed his own production company. Gaumont put Alice in charge of film production where she remained from 1896-1906. Alice became a pioneer in using sound recordings with images, special effects, and even playing film backwards.

After 1906, Alice moved to New York to manage Gaumont’s studio in the U.S. And then in 1910, Alice and her husband, Herbert Blaché, formed The Solax Studio in New Jersey. They were very successful and within two years were able to build a $100,000 glass studio in Fort Lee. She was the first woman to own her own studio. Sadly, the company only lasted four years. Guy continued to work in film and directed her last film in 1919 before retiring to giving film lectures and writing novels from screenplays. She was honored in 1953 with the Legion of Honor award by the French government. Alice Guy died in 1968.

Currently, the Fort Lee Film Commission is at work trying to gain her posthumous admittance to the Director’s Guild of America.

And so the first woman director set the bar high. Pretty cool, huh?

And look “The Cabbage Fairy” is online!

Question: If Alice made hundreds of films, created her own studio and did innovative and creative films at the very beginning of cinema, why haven’t I heard of her?

Answer: It wasn’t until 1976 with the publishing of her memoir that she was remembered for all the incredible work she accomplished. How do you think Alice’s work was forgotten? Or why might it have been overlooked?


“Alice Guy-Blache.” Wikipedia. Dec. 8 2010. 12-15-10.é.

Brightwell, Eric. “Alice Guy-Blache – First Female of Film Direction.” Amoeblog.

March 3 2009. 12-15-10. blog/alice-guy-blach-first-female-of-film-direction.html.

McKernan, Luke. “Alice Guy.” Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema. 12-15-10.

McMahan, Alison. “Inventing the Movies.” Alice Guy-Blache. 2009. Homunculus

Productions, LLC and Alison McMahan. 12-15-10.

Richards, Andrea. Girl Director A How-To Guide for the First-Time, Flat-Broke Film

and Video Maker. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005.

White, Penny. “Alice Guy Blache, First Woman Film Director Succeeding in a

Burgeoning Film Industry.” Sept. 24, 2009. 12-15-10. a150877.

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