In honor of International Women’s Week, we here at the Lomography Magazine are putting the much-deserved spotlight on some of the most amazing women in various fields. And with the Oscars happening just last night, we thought we’d start off with five amazing female filmmakers who managed to rise above challenges and make their indelible mark in a male-dominated industry.
Alice Ida Antoinette Guy-Blaché was and still is one of the most important figures in the French and American film industry, yet it’s a shame only a few people today know about her. Born on July 1, 1873 in Paris, France, she was not only a pioneer; she also holds the distinction of being the first woman director in the motion picture industry. She was also among the first who created the first narrative films in the onset of filmmaking. Throughout her 24-year career, Alice was able to direct more than a thousand films (22 of which are feature-length and a mere 350 reportedly survive), and also became the first to manage and own her very own studio, The Solax Company. “La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy)” was Alice’s directorial debut released in 1896. Before becoming a filmmaker, Alice was a secretary to film pioneer Léon Gaumont.
During her lifetime, Alice was honored the France’s Légion d’honneur (1953) and at the Cinématheque Française ceremony four years after. Ironically, it was only after her death in 1968 that Alice truly received the honor she deserves. A number of posthumous tributes were made in honor of her, most notably the creation of historic markers “dedicated to the role she played as the first woman film director and studio owner,” being given membership to the Directors Guild of America in 2011, and being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013.
When Hollywood began to adapt the Hays Code, or the Motion Picture Production Code, in 1930, unconventional and female filmmakers suffered the worst blow. Times were so difficult back then that Dorothy Arzner (January 3, 1900 – October 1, 1979, California), who initially wanted to become a doctor, remained to be the only woman working in the field. Active in the industry from 1922 until 1943, Dorothy’s filmography is comprised of 23 movies, some of which are now believed to be lost or incomplete, including “Fashions for Women” (directorial debut, 1927) and “Dance, Girl, Dance” (1940). Dorothy is the first woman to join the then-newly formed Directors Guild of America in 1936. She is also believed to be the first female to direct a talkie.
Although Dorothy stopped directing films altogether in 1943, the reason behind for which remains unknown to the public, she continued to direct TV commercials and Army training films, produced plays, and worked as a screenwriting and directing professor at the UCLA film school until her death. Oh, and did you know that Dorothy apparently invented a device which is now known today as the boom microphone during the filming for “The Wild Party” in 1929?
Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Español von Braueic, or simply Lina Wertmüller (August 14, 1928, Rome, Italy), was the first of four women to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director for her 1976 Italian language film “Seven Beauties”, which received three more nominations from the same award-giving body. Her debut film was “The Lizards”. Before this, Federico Fellini himself offered her the assistant director post for his film, the critically-acclaimed “8 ½”. Lina accomplished stage directing courses at the Accademia Pietro Sharoff in 1951, and began working in the theater after. She directed more than 17 films between 1963 and 2004, including “The Seduction of Mimi” 1972) and “Love and Anarchy” (1973). In 1985, Lina was given the Women in Film Crystal award for helping “…expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.”
Elizabeth Jane Campion, born on April 30, 1954 in Wellington, New Zealand made history when she became the first female filmmaker to win the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival for “The Piano” in 1993. For this film, she also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Speaking of the Oscars, Jane is the second female filmmaker to receive a nomination for Best Director. Jane was a graduate of anthropology at the Victoria University of Wellington, and of painting in the Sydney College of Arts in Australia. In 1980, Jane finally began to study film at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Her short film “Peel” (1982), gave her the distinction of becoming the first woman to win the Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival four years after. Meanwhile, she made her feature film debut in 1989 through the award-winning “Sweetie”. Since 1980, Jane has directed 17 films, and has been given much praise by critics and her peers alike.
Kathryn Ann Bigelow was born on November 27, 1951 and has been in the industry since the late ‘70s. However, her biggest, historical claim to fame didn’t arrive until some 30 years later when she became the first woman to have been awarded the Oscars Best Director nod, the BAFTA Awards, the Directors Guild of America, and the Critics Choice Awards for her 2008 award-winning film “The Hurt Locker”. Kathryn made her directorial debut in 1982 in “The Loveless”, which she also co-wrote. She has directed seven more feature films including “Strange Days,” for which she won the Saturn Award for Best Director in 1995 (again, the first woman to do so) and the 2012 acclaimed film “Zero Dark Thirty”; the short film “The Set-Up”; episodes for a few TV series; and two music videos throughout her career.
Before forging a successful career in film, Kathryn was originally a student of painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She earned her master’s degree in theory and criticism at the Columbia University’s film program.
Honorable mention: Sofia Coppola, the third female and first American woman to be nominated Best Director at the Oscars. You may read more about Sofia in our earlier feature about her on our The Director’s Chair series here.
Have anyone to add to this list, fellow lomographers? Do tell us who and why in the comments below!
All information in this article were sourced from Alice Guy-Blache on Wikipedia and Bio; Dorothy Arzner on Wikipedia and Bio, Lina Wertmuller on Wikipedia and Italica, Jane Campion in Wikipedia, and Kathryn Bigelow on Wikipedia.