Female filmmakers in the 21st century continue to struggle against double standards, institutionalized sexism, and a dire lack of opportunities, especially within the realm of commercial cinema. While these obstacles have been in place for many decades now – ever since film production coalesced into a bona fide industry – the history of women’s role in film production is far more complicated than one might assume. Indeed, in the medium’s infancy – throughout the silent era – women had a stronger presence behind the camera than at any other period since. A multitude of women worked as screenwriters, crew members, and even directors during the period in which the industry was in formation. It was not until the movies emerged as a commercial venture of vast financial potential, and film production became increasingly standardized as a result, that women were systematically pushed out. This transformation took place very quickly – by the 1930s, female film directors in commercial cinema (particularly but not only in America) were very much the exception to the rule. Even in the classical Hollywood period, however, a handful of remarkable women (such as Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino) did succeed in taking possession of the director’s chair.
Despite the remarkable achievements of these early female film directors, many of them remain little known or studied even today, an indication that the social and economic forces mobilized against them not only continue to exist, but also extend to the realm of film studies. Nevertheless, the past decade has seen an increase in academic interest in this neglected history, as well as the appearance of some much-needed initiatives and resources, including the astonishingly ambitious and invaluable web project, Women Film Pioneers Project (http://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu), which was founded by Jane Gaines and came to fruition (two decades after it was conceived) in 2013, and the Woman with a Movie Camera project (from5to7.com), a global platform committed to increasing the visibility of women working in film and video. Inspired in part by these two projects, and in part by the recent Sight & Sound article, “The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women” (October 2015), we offer this series, which encompasses more than twenty works by women who succeeded in directing their own films in the decades before 1950. Including rare archival and imported prints, spotlights on early filmmakers such as Gene Gauntier, Alice Guy-Blaché, Germaine Dulac, and others, and the premiere of a new restoration of Lois Weber’s SHOES (screening for the first time in the modern era with the original American intertitles), this series is not to be missed.
Special thanks to Isabel Stevens (Sight & Sound); Amy Taubin; Jane Gaines & Kate Saccone (Women Film Pioneers Project); Joy Schaefer & Sofia Varino (Woman with a Movie Camera); Janice Allen; Laura Argento (Cineteca Nazionale); Daniel Bish (George Eastman Museum); Astri Dehli Blindheim (Norwegian Film Institute); Fleur Buckley (British Film Institute); Kitty Cleary (MoMA); Dennis Doros & Amy Heller (Milestone Films); Johan Ericsson (Swedish Film Institute); Kristen Fitzpatrick (Women Make Movies); José Manuel García (Filmoteca UNAM); Paul Ginsburg (Universal); Marleen Labijt (EYE Film Institute); Keith Sanborn; Lynanne Schweighofer (Library of Congress); S. Louisa Wei.