Léon Gaumont, the Lumière brothers, Alfred Hitchcock and even Stanley Kubrick are among the top directors. On the other hand, for their female counterparts, it is radio silence. The exploits of female directors seem to have been speeded up throughout history. Wrongly. These ladies, seasoned or not, have many times overshadowed men in the world of the 7th art. Unrecognized directors, they finally deserve to leave the darkness to shine. Engine, action!
1 – Alice Guy, pioneer director
Today his face appears at the Festival Lumière de Lyon and his exploits parade behind documentaries from around the world. But during her lifetime, Alice Guy, contemporary of George Méliès, did not know the same praise. However it is to her that we owe the beginnings of fictions.
True emblem of late 19th century silent cinema, this lover of the 7th art brings her share of fresh ideas to a rapidly changing industry. First a secretary for a certain Léon Gaumont, this inexperienced but resolutely daring woman becomes the keystone of the Gaumont house. Unknown director, but freed from a modern styleshe quickly took the reins of production.
His courageous initiatives and his explosive temper will raise her to the rank of 1st director. At only 23 years old, she directed her first fiction film “The Cabbage Fairy”. The following year, this silver screen prodigy flew across the Channel to live her “American dream”. She created her own production company and studios there.
This is the beginning of the “Alice Guy” phenomenon. Since 2018, this great visionary unfairly ousted from history gives her name to a prize that rewards films directed by women. A belated but salutary revenge.
2 – Agnès Varda, filmmaker of the New Wave
His name surely sounds familiar. Agnès Varda joined the afterlife in March 2019, leaving behind singular works tinged with tenderness, melancholy and realism. Agnès Varda is a monument of the 7th art revealed in the 1950s when women are subjected to the harsh laws of the home.
Armed with her photographer’s eye and her deeply touching signature, she does a masterstroke, with “The Short Point”. If this first short film is heavily denigrated, it nevertheless marks the starting point of the New Wave. The director, unknown at first, is drawn from the shadows by his ultimate masterpiece “Cleo from 5 to 7”.
The film tackles a raw theme since it follows live the life of a heroine who learns that she is suffering from cancer. Halfway between an informative documentary and a fictionalized scenario, this creation is nominated at the Cannes Film Festival for the Palme d’Or the year of its release. These films find a feminist and political echo. In “One sings, the other does not”she brings to the screen the emancipation of women and abortion, then illegal.
3 – Loïs Weber, first person to direct a feature film
with his movie “The Merchant of Venice” from 1914, Lois Weber officially becomes the first person to have directed a feature film in the world of cinema. A burst of genius that did not have the expected light. She also ticks the box of an unknown director.
This heroine of the 7th art from the United States definitely don’t talk to anyone. However, when his film was released “The Hypocrites” in 1915, the young thirty-something throws a stone into the pond, arousing some sweats in the puritan America of the time. A female body dressed as Eve, widespread riots throughout the country. By lifting the veil on this abrupt reality, the unrecognized director with religious roots becomes a living sin.
Whatever. For her, it’s a way like any other to shake the cinema so on the tightrope. Encouraged on this path by her friend Alice Guy, Loïs Weber shines the spotlight on shadow phenomena. From the hypocrisy of religion to prohibition, it becomes whistleblower before the hour.
And this slightly offhand trademark grants him the title of “Mayor of Universal”. With its works with feminist accentsshe questions the almost inalienable malaise of women hooked on their husbands. His talent, swept away by the Hollywood frenzy, is monumental. The proof, she is now nicknamed “The director with 300 films”.
4 – Germaine Dulac, a French woman behind the first feminist film
Journalist, writer, filmmaker, theoretician, philosopher, feminist and political activist, news director at Gaumont, documentary filmmaker… with such a long career, one would think that this Amiens woman had as many lives as a feline. Despite this bubbling journey, the name of Germaine Dulac breathes mystery.
unknown director, she has however shaken up the codes in many respects. First editor for one of the few feminist media of the 1900s, Germaine Dulac falls into the bath of the 7th art thanks to his lover, actress Stacia Napierkowska. Yes, this scholar against the current was also a accomplished lesbian. In 1915, she directed her first film “Enemy Sisters”, a fair, no-frills essay, splattered on the big screen.
His filmography is a prize list in itself. Between “Spanish Party” first impressionist film, “The Smiling Madame Beudet”, first feminist film and “The Shell and Clergyman”, first surrealist film, it’s a full box. Germaine Dulac, avant-garde to the fingertips, is forging a prestigious path in the selective universe of the 7th art. The blood of feminism runs through her veins and she seizes this art of the image to awaken consciences. She will also be one of the major figures to defend the working class.
5 – Sarah Maldoror, spokesperson for African activists
On display at the Palais Tokyo last February, the provocative, enraged and militant cinema of Sarah Maldoror was valiantly honored. French filmmaker of Guadeloupe origin, the young woman born in 1929 actively participated in the fight against racism. “To make a film is to take a stand. When I take a stand, I educate”, she confirmed. A commitment declined behind the camera with stories with a poetic aesthetic, carrying powerful messages.
A director unknown to the general public, she nevertheless gave birth to 42 films, with feminist and anti-colonialist overtones. A free, independent and motivated woman, she sees cinema as a whistleblower tool. The camera becomes this little mouse, discreet, sneaking into a society without pity for people of color.
The chaotic living conditions of minorities pierce the screen and the heart. His films, which date from the 70s and 80s sadly find an echo in our modern world. Watching his works without borders is an invitation to open your eyes.
In 2022, the directors are getting more and more noticed, at the crossroads of red carpets and honorary ceremonies. Two consecutive years, the Oscars have dedicated a director. Last year it was Chloé Zhao with “Nomad Land” and this year Jane Campion with “The power of the dog”.
We want to give thanks to the writer of this write-up for this incredible material
5 little-known directors who changed the face of cinema