Alice Guy-Blaché: The First Geek

I've been learning a lot about Alice Guy-Blaché over the past week. She was one of the first female film directors. She may have been the first to bring narrative to film. I'm affectionately thinking of her as the first female geek. Not only did she own a film studio, she wrote, shot and produced over 1,000 films. But here's where she gets all tech-y. Guy-Blaché experimented with colorization, sound synchronization, operated the camera and created explosions. All of this was unheard of in the very beginning of film. Unfortunately for us, Guy-Blaché is also largely unheard of.

I spoke with Pamela Green, the documentary filmmaker trying to resurrect Guy-Blaché's good name. Green is making Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Actually, having talked with Green, the project is more than just a bio doc. It's a love letter; to Alice and to all of us who need role models in our lives. Guy-Blaché did it right. She had passion, imagination, children and vision. In the time we spend debating whether or not women can have it all, Guy-Blaché was just out making movies. She was innovative, resourceful and people liked her.

So how did a successful early moviemaker and studio owner fall out of the history books? In tracking down Guy-Blaché's disappearance from cinema history, Green and her directing partner Jarik van Sluijs became detectives, uncovering more and more details of Guy-Blaché's life. They've spoken with family members, read her letters and articles, searched out mentions in books and they've watched her films. Her filmography includes titles such as In the Year 2000 When Women Are In Charge, Wonderful Absinthe, Turn of the Century Surgery and The Hierarchies of Love.

Guy-Blaché was at the forefront of early filmmaking. She worked for Léon Gaumont and counted science and literary luminaries in her circle.

"You don't just basically start out as a secretary and ask your boss if you can film something in a time when women can't even vote just because you saw something at a screening. You don't just become the head of production because it's just you and Gaumont that decided to start this company after working in this photography studio. You don't move into something new and take all these chances without a real sense of entrepreneurship and passion. She's basically there interacting with not only the best in science and photography, but she's rubbing elbows with Emile Zola, the Lumiere brothers are walking through. She basically told Gaumont to go get some investors and one of the investors was Gustav Eiffel himself. Can you imagine being there? It's like today if you were Steve Jobs and you have all these people that are around you witnessing what's going on and wanting to be a part of it. Or Mark Zuckerberg. That, to me, is the comparison. She was there at a time of a huge change. We're going through a huge change now into digital. Anyone can pick up a camera and put stuff on YouTube. What's the difference? The difference is that she was doing it at a time when women had fewer possibilities. There were more boundaries."

Robert Redford has signed on as executive producer and Jodie Foster narrates the documentary, which is now in pre-production. Click here to learn more about Alice Guy-Blaché and Be Natural. Or go to Fandor to check out some of her films.