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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

Meet The World's First Female Director

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

When the phrase "female filmmaker" comes to mind, most people will instantly think of visionaries like Kathryn Bigelow or Sophia Coppola. However you'll rarely come across someone on the street that can name more than five woman directors let alone the one to start it all. Over the course of her career, she produced over 700 films and influenced legendary directors such as Sergei Einstein and Alfred Hitchcock yet barely anyone knows her name, that all changes now. This is the story of Alice Guy-Blanché, the world's first female filmmaker.

Alice Guy was born on July 1st, 1873 in Paris, France to Emile and Marie Guy, the owners of a bookstore who would divide their time between Paris and Santiago, Chile. Alice was the only one of her five siblings to be born in Europe despite having French parents. Growing up she attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart for school. By the time she was eighteen, both her father and brother had died, and in 1894, she acquired a job in Paris that would allow her artistic career to take shape. That same year she was hired as a secretary at a photography supply company that was later bought by architect, Gustave Eiffel and Leon Gaumont in 1895 and renamed L. Gaumont et Cie. Despite the countless renovations and rebrands, Blanché continued to stick by her job at the company, a decision which would eventually allow her to become a pioneering filmmaker and one of the most proflific careers the industry had seen so far.

Although she began her career as merely a secretary, over the years Blanché familiarized herself with the company's myriad of camera equipment, clients, and got to meet legendary french directors such as Louis Lumiere and Georges Demenÿ.

On March 22nd, 1885, Blanché attended Lumiere's "surprise" event that ended up being the first ever demostration of film projection, a method still used in theaters all over the globe. The event showed Lumiere's Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory, widely regarded as the first ever motion picture. As time went on, Blanché continued to work at the factory but gradually became bored of film being used solely for scientific or education purposes, she wanted to tell stories. Eventually she asked León Gaumont if he would allow her to make her very own motion picture just like Lumiere and of course, he said yes.

In 1886, Alice Guy-Blanché released the world's first ever narrative film, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy). It was sixty seconds in length and eventually had to be remade twice, once in 1900 and again in 1902. There's no doubt just how influential this was to the film industry, however no copies of the short currently exist, meaning the first narrative and female directed film has been lost to time. From 1886 to 1906, Blanché served as León Gaumont's head of production at the company. It's extremely likely that during this time, she was the only female director in the industry.

Not only was she the first storyteller in film but Blanché later proved to be a pioneer in film audio engineering. Her 1906 project, The Life of Christ utilized Gaumont's "Chronophone" sound-on-disc method to add sound as well as moving images to the film. As well as being an important film for its use of audio, Blanche's The Life fo Christ was arguably one of the most ambitious motion pictures the era had seen so far. The project consisted of 25 separate episodes and used 300 extras, making it the largest Gaumont project the company had ever seen.

The following year, Alice Guy married fellow movie director, Herbert Blanché, who soon after was appointed as production manager at the Gaumont company. In 1910, the couple partnered up with George. A. Magie and created their own film studio: The Solax Company, in Flushing, New York. Solax later became the largest pre-Hollywood studio in the United States. There, Herbert served as production manager as well as cinematographer while Alice continued to produce films and work as the company's artistic director. The studio became an almost immediate success and within two years, The Solax Company had invested over $100,000 into new and emerging film technology. Alice Guy-Blanché was now officially the first woman to own her own studio.

Later, in 1913, Blanché would have another run-in with mainstream attention when she directed her film, The Thief, which became the first script sold by writer, William Moulton Marston who would later go on to create the iconic character, Wonder Woman.

By 1922, during the rise of early Hollywood, Alice and her husband, Herbert would sadly divorce, ending their marriage as well as their relationship as filmmakers and business partners. Although she continued making movies, she would never remarry.

Despite how accomplished this woman was, there's a good chance that you've never heard of her. Why exactly is that? Blanché herself was extremely concerned with her name being overlooked and excluded from the history books. Throughout her life, she would remain in constant contact with film historians, making sure they got every detail right about her life, desperate not let her accomplishments be forgotten. However, being a woman in film isn't easy, and the atmosphere of the early 20th century made it virtually impossible for people like Blanché to break the glass cieling. Despite the tremendous lengths she went to in order to keep her image alive and be a trailblazer for female directors everywhere, Alice Guy-Blanché is still seldom talked about in conversations about film to this day.

The twenty-first century so far has been much kinder to female filmmakers than it was decades ago. However, there's a huge chance this would not be the case if not for the innovative pioneer of filmmaking that was Alice Guy-Blanché. Anyone who cares about film in any capacity owes her so much, at this point, the least we can do is remember her name. Long live, Alice Guy-Blanché, the world's first female director.

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