Most likely not many people know that half of the films protected by copyright produced between 1911 and 1925 were scripted by women. A hundred years ago, at the dawn of its history, in the film industry there was a strong proportion of women in many key roles and in almost all its production aspects.
Alice Guy Blaché
Amongst the most important women in the film industry there certainly is Alice Guy, first female director and first person ever to realise a narrative film: “La Fée aux Choux” (The Cabbage Fairy), 1896. Guy worked as a secretary for Léon Gaumont, owner of a company selling cameras fir the rising film industry.
After having attended the first presentation of a film, the surprising production of the Lumière Brothers on the 22nd March 1895, recording just the entrance and exit of some workers from the Lumière factory, Miss Guy asked to Gaumont to give her the chance to realise a film. Even back then Alice was assured that the cinema was not supposed to be used only with advertising or scientific intentions, but instead for narrative purposes too.
For 10 years, up until 1906 Miss Guy was production director of the Gaumont, besides directing many other films. In 1907 she moved to the US where she opened up with her husband a company of their own, the Solax Company. Once back to France in 1922, after the divorce with her husband an the loss of ther company, Mrs Guy quit directing and was eventually (almost) forgot.
Helen Gardner, one of the first femme fatale in the history of cinema, she was the first amongst actors and actresses to found her own production company in 1912. Miss Gardner, considered as a vamp, played the role of strong women but that was not all: she was also the costume designer, producer, screenwriter and editor. She decided to found her own company in order to realise an avantgarde idea for the time: filming full-length films when back then most of the productions were short films.
Mabel Normand’s life, although brief as she died in her 37’s, was pretty intense. Comic actress of the silent films, screenwriter, director and producer, she had an important role in the beginning of Charlie Chaplin’s career by playing with him, dealing with the direction and screenplay of the first films of the actor. Miss Normand has her own star in the Walk of Fame of Hollywood, even though her fame did not resist the ticking of the time.
Julia Crawford Ivers
Julia Crawford Ivers was a pioneer in the Californian film industry, when her LA started to turn into an exotic outpost for all the film lovers. Julia was one of the first screenwriters of Hollywood, apart from director and producer. Her passion for cinema involved even one of her sons, James Van Trees, becoming director of photography with whom she collaborated in several films where she was directing.
She started her career as an actress, first for the theater then for films. In 1915 she was part of those women in Hollywood that were hired by the Universal as directors in order to run their own short/ full-length productions. To her it must be acknowledged the courage to have gone upstream, showing in her films topics such as the oppression and the sexual discrimination, seen from a feminine point of view.
As Hollywood and the whole film industry was turning into a huge millions of doollars worth-business, the female presence in key roles was gradually disappearing, perhaps since a profitable and prestigious job like that one was to be considered almost exclusively as a male job.
From directors, screenwriters and producers, the women started covering only places as secretaries and receptionists, at most they could be editors as that was considered as a more feminine kind of job. But it’s curious to think that nowadays only less than the 10% of the American editors are female. What could this ever mean?