Alice Guy-Blache, forgotten filmmaker

Seat yourself in a movie theater. The lights dim. You hear the projector and reel whir to life. A vision floods your eyes.

You’ve experienced it before: the close-ups emphasizing characters’ facial expressions; the musical themes introducing characters, melting together or clashing to enhance drama; the special effects applied to accomplish the right visual, whether explosions or never-ending staircases.

The movie is new, but the ideas behind what you see and hear are old. Older, in fact, than many filmmakers realize. And the credit for them—for close-ups, sound synchronization, and special effects—may belong to a woman.

Alice-Guy-Blache-PortraitAlice Guy-Blache (1873—1968) was a filmmaker over the turn of the last century, when moving pictures were brand new and silent short films (like those of Charlie Chaplin) were growing popular.

As secretary for Gaumont-Paris, a camera manufacturer, Alice witnessed firsthand the constant changes made to photograph technology.

Others may have scoffed at the innovators’ obsessions with film cameras, but 23-year-old Alice didn’t. Instead, she asked if she could borrow the Gaumont-Demeny camera, received permission, and made her first short film, “La Fée aux Choux,” or “The Cabbage Fairy”.

When Gaumont began producing movies, Alice became one of the studio’s first film directors. By 1897, she was Gaumont’s first Head of Production, overseeing a team of directors. In 1907, she moved to the U.S. and opened her own studio.

Twenty-four years after beginning her film career, Alice had written, directed, and produced more than 1,000 films, worn nearly every hat in the industry, and made innovations from behind the lens that are still used today.

“She took the possibility and decided to make it an opportunity,” said Pamela Green, co-founder of PIC Agency, an audio-visual communications studio in Los Angeles, known for its title sequences for films including The Bourne Supremacy, The Illusionist, and Twilight.

Pamela has been intensively researching Alice for the past three years. She first heard of Alice on a show called Reel Models.

“I couldn’t believe with all the accomplishments she’d had, that I’d never heard of her,” Pamela said. “The body of work itself is incredible.”

For the past two years, Pamela and her business partner, Jarik van Sluijs, have been traveling the country on their own dimes, chasing Alice’s story.

“You don’t go and pick up a camera as a secretary, make a film, move to the States where you don’t speak the language, and make over 1,000 movies, and have nobody know you,” Pamela said.

Pamela and Jarik have talked to descendants of Alice, descendants of her employees, and even people who knew her directly. They’ve tracked down her films in various forms, found print and audio interviews with Alice and letters handwritten by her.

They’ve learned that Metro, which later became part of MGM, distributed Alice’s films, and that Samuel Goldwin’s company (Goldwyn Pictures) rented production facilities from her studio. They’ve learned that the world she lived in was a lot like our own—on the cusp of change with new technologies making the difference, better or worse, for its future. They’ve learned that Alice was a lot like us: strong-willed, determined, not about to be turned away.

“If we were to grab her and put her in society today, she would fit,” Pamela said. “She was a CEO in a time when it wasn’t possible for a woman. Instead of seeing the boundaries, she saw the possibilities.”

With all they’ve learned, Pamela and Jarik have decided to share Alice with us by putting together a documentary featuring some of the best talents of today’s film industry.

Executive produced by Robert Redford and narrated by Jodie Foster, Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blache will introduce you to a woman who’s impact on film has been almost entirely ignored.

Using methods that Alice introduced, along with today’s technology, Pamela and Jarik will educate and entertain you with the true story of Alice Guy-Blache, the world’s first female director.

Except, there’s a hitch. And no one likes sales pitches or hearing they have to pay for something, but here it is: Alice’s story can’t be told unless $200,000 is raised by August 26.

The funds will allow Pamela and Jarik to

  • view the rest of Alice’s 100-year-old films, in their various forms, and gain the rights to use clips from them in the documentary
  • bring others into the project, as they piece everything together into one unified film
  • take the film to festivals next May, where they’ll raise awareness to Alice’s story.

But best of all, the funds will allow Pamela and Jarik to bring the film to you, the viewer who loves any story about passion, determination, and overcoming the odds.

Help Pamela and Jarik overcome their odds.

Published by meredithsell

Freelance writer and editor. Nerding out over health & fitness, women's history, and untold stories.

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