In 1895, at the Societe d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale in Paris, Auguste and Louis Lumiere debuted the cinematographe to a small group of colleagues and friends. The camera was officially released to the public later that year, and the Lumiere brothers become known as the fathers of cinema. Present for the private release was Alice Guy-Blaché, the twenty-two-year-old secretary to Leon Gaumont, inventor, industrialist, and founder of the Gaumont Film Company. He had been concerned about Alice’s youth when he hired her. “It will pass,” she assured him.
Inspired by the screening, Alice Guy-Blaché wrote, directed, and produced one of the first narrative films ever made, La Fée Aux Choux, or, The Cabbage Fairy, in 1896. Gaumont permitted her to use the company’s equipment under the condition that “the mail doesn’t suffer.” This film, in which babies are plucked from cabbages by a fairy, cements Alice as one of the first filmmakers in history, and the first ever female film director—a mother to cinema.
Guy-Blaché’s career outpaces that of legends like the Lumieres and Georges Mélies, with whom she was a contemporary. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle, Alice won the Diplome De Collaboratrice (Collaborator Award). Her competition included Melies, Ferdinand Zecca, and Edwin S. Porter. She wrote, directed, and produced over a thousand films and was among the first to employ techniques like close-ups, hand-tinted color, and synchronized sound. Many of her films were created through Solax, the production company she founded in 1910 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, (America’s original Hollywood) in 1910, three years after moving to the United States with her husband, Herbert Blaché. For Alice, to become a filmmaker, “was my fate, if you will.” And she was, at the time, well-known for it.
Why, then, had I never heard of her? Read More