Alice Guy Blache, the first woman film director in cinema history, received honor on July 1, her birthday, as the Fort Lee Film Commission unveiled a new grave marker acknowledging her contributions in filmmaking in New Jersey, birthplace of the motion picture industry.
A cinema pioneer, Madame Blache founded Solax Studio in Fort Lee in 1912, one hundred years ago. She made a consistent body of work, using developing technologies for special effects, colorization and sound synchronization. She was a prolific storyteller, being the first to use narrative in her films and she changed the way early actors in silent films acted. Her mantra was for them to “Be Natural” instead of posing stiffly for the cameras. Over the years after the first world war, amid a bad economy and bad business deals, the studios moved to California and Alice Guy went back to France fading into obscurity.
Efforts by film historians and members of the Fort Lee Film Commission and New York Women in Fiim and Television (NYWiFT) have worked tirelessly to bring attention to this almost forgotten true cinema artist. In the past several years, her films have been preserved through the collaboration of Fort Lee Film Commission and the NYWIFT film preservation fund, a retrospective of her work was shown at the Whitney Museum in New York, symposiums and film screenings about Alice Guy and her work.
Most recently at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) 75th anniversary celebration in October 2011, Alice Guy Blache was honored with a Special Directorial Award presented by Martin Scorsese, in an oh, so eloquent, highly reverent manner. It was an incredibly important moment for Madame Director, who had come to the realization in the later years of her life, that she was not included in the cinema history books and that most of her films were lost.
Alice Guy Blaché, returned to the U.S. many times looking for her films and finally came to stay with her daughter in Mahwah, New Jersey in 1964. She died at the age of 95, is buried in Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, and until Sunday, her grave was only marked with her name and the dates of her birth and death.
Fort Lee Film Commission executive director Tom Meyers noted that her birthday was 139 years ago, and the idea to celebrate her birthday began three years ago with a plan for a new marker to include the titles: First Woman Motion Picture Director, First woman Studio Head, President of the Solax Company, Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Following short words by members of the group, Tom Meyers, Alison McMahan, Richard Koszarski, Nancy O’Mallon and Christina Kotlar, who played key roles in the making this happen, along with Susan Lazarus of the NYWiFT Film Preservation Fund and Kimberly Skyrme, President of the Board of Women in Film and Television International (WIFTI), the celebration continued with a BBQ at the Fort Lee Museum.
A befitting dedication and celebration of a woman’s life and work who played such an important role in cinema history.