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Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
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Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers - Nov. 1 & 8

In the early days of cinema, women directors were fairly common and even helped shape the language of film. However, as time progressed and the power structure of Hollywood shifted, women became greatly overlooked in positions of leadership and power. TCM honors the women who served as pioneers in directing silent movies, influencing generations of filmmakers in the face of the limitations imposed upon them.

TCM also salutes their successors, the women directors of later decades who managed to break through the "celluloid ceiling" when opportunities for females were even rarer. We look at Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers during primetime on the first two Thursdays in November, then at Female Directors as a daytime theme on Wednesday, November 7.

Our first night of female silent-film directors features three films by French-born Alice Guy-Blaché: Falling Leaves (1912), A House Divided (1913) and The Ocean Waif (1916). It has been said that, during the period 1896-1906, Guy-Blaché was "probably the only woman film director in the world."

Dorothy Davenport Reid, whose feature Linda (1929) is also in our lineup, came from the prominent theatrical family the Davenports. She was an actress as well as writer, producer and director. She was married to actor Wallace Reid, and it was a sign of the time that, on Linda and some of the other films she directed, she was billed as "Mrs. Wallace Reid."

Three short films in this tribute are TCM premieres, including Lois Weber's Suspense (1913), a 10-minute thriller about a mother and her baby threatened in their home by a burglar. Weber, who has been called "America's First Female Filmmaker," co-directed the movie, wrote the scenario and stars as the threatened mother.

Mabel's Blunder (1914) is a 13-minute comedy produced by Mack Sennett and written and directed by its star, Mabel Norman, the most successful comedienne of the early silent screen. Her Defiance (1916) is a 20-minute feminist melodrama co-directed by Cleo Madison, who stars as a woman abandoned by her lover.

Other Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers include Julia Crawford Ivers, Marian E. Wong, Ruth Ann Baldwin, Ida May Park, Elsie Jane Wilson, Nell Shipman, Grace Cunard, Lita Lawrence and Alla Nazimova, the flamboyant Russian star who wrote, produced and/or co-directed several of her film vehicles.

Female Directors from later decades include Dorothy Arzner, the only woman directing films for Hollywood studios during the 1930s. She was the first female to direct a sound film and the first to join the Directors Guild of America. She was noted for her technical innovations, such as inventing a boom mic, and also for directing such female superstars as Katharine Hepburn (Christopher Strong, 1933) and Joan Crawford (The Bride Wore Red, 1937).

Jacqueline Audry was the first Frenchwoman to become a successful film director in her country in the years following World War II. She directed the first film adaptation of the famous Colette story Gigi (1949), before American screenwriter Anita Loos adapted it for the stage. In the U.S., starring actress Ida Lupino staked her claim as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, on such films asHard, Fast and Beautiful (1951). She also co-wrote some of her socially-conscious melodramas including Outrage and produced others. Along with her acting career, she continued directing for television into the 1960s.

Claudia Weill, who has also directed for theatre and television, is best remembered for her feature film Girlfriends (1978), which she also produced. The movie examines the troubled yet supportive relationship of two New Yorkers (played by Melanie Mayron and Anita Skinner). The film brought Weill a David di Donatello award from the Venice Film Festival for best "first work as a director."

by Roger Fristoe
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