Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology

Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology

24 Episodes

In the earliest days of the movies, women were responsible for some of the young medium’s most thrilling innovations. Unfortunately, many of these pioneering artists have been written out of film history, their contributions to the foundations of cinema long undervalued. International in scope, this eye-opening collection brings together a treasure trove of films made between 1902 and 1943 by directors like Alice Guy Blaché, Lois Weber, Germaine Dulac, Lotte Reiniger, Mary Ellen Bute, and Maya Deren. The films these women made were technically and stylistically inventive, pushing the boundaries of narrative, aesthetics, and genre and fundamentally shaping an art form in its infancy.

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Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology
  • The Star Prince

    Episode 1

    Directed by Madeline Brandeis • 1918 • United States
    Starring Zoe Rae, Dorphia Brown, John Dorland

    Madeline Brandeis was just twenty-one years old when she wrote and directed this fairy-tale fantasy about a boy who falls to earth on a star and his ensuing adventures. With a cast comprised entire...

  • The Cigarette

    Episode 2

    Directed by Germaine Dulac • 1919 • France
    Starring Andrée Brabant, Gabriel Signoret, Jules Raucourt

    Germaine Dulac’s earliest extant film, LA CIGARETTE concerns a liberated young woman and her older husband, who believes she is having an affair—speaking to a real postwar crisis of masculinity i...

  • The Blot

    Episode 3

    Directed by Lois Weber • 1921 • United States
    Starring Claire Windsor, Louis Calhern, Philip Hubbard

    The last film made under the banner of Lois Weber Productions, this moral drama, also written by Weber, is a biting commentary on economic inequality. Through her portrait of the Griggs family—an...

  • The Smiling Madame Beudet

    Episode 4

    Directed by Germaine Dulac • 1923 • France
    Starring Germaine Dermoz, Madeleine Guitty, Jean d'Yd

    Considered one of Germaine Dulac’s most feminist films, THE SMILING MADAME BEUDET is also a crucial step in her continuing de-emphasis of traditional narrative structures in favor of visual associati...

  • The Peasant Women of Ryazan

    Episode 5

    Directed by Olga Preobrazhenskaya and Ivan Pravov • 1927 • Soviet Union
    Starring Kuzma Yastrebitsky, Olga Narbekova, Yelena Maksimova

    Returning to a pre–Russian Revolution mode of narrative storytelling, this melodrama focuses on two peasant women—one the victim to an abusive father-in-law and t...

  • The Erl King

    Episode 6

    Directed by Marie-Louise Iribe • 1931 • France
    Starring Mary Costes, Joë Hamman, Otto Gebühr

    This early sound drama was Iribe’s second directorial effort and uses cinematic techniques to visualize Goethe’s 1782 ballad “Erlkönig” and Schubert’s later musical adaptation. Produced by Iribe’s Les Ar...

  • The Woman Condemned

    Episode 7

    Directed by Dorothy Davenport • 1934 • United States
    Starring Claudia Dell, Lola Lane, Richard Hemingway

    When a radio star (Lola Lane) is murdered, a mysterious young woman (Claudia Dell) is accused of the crime. Can a wisecracking reporter (Richard Hemingway), who finds himself captivated by th...

  • Miss Dundee and Her Performing Dogs

    Episode 8

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1902 • France

    Typical of Gaumont’s output at the time and an example of cinema’s early presentational style, this humorous “demonstration” film showcases a vaudeville act featuring a Miss Dundee and her trained performing dogs.

  • A Story Well Spun

    Episode 9

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1906 • France

    In this pun-titled Gaumont comedy, a man rests in a barrel that gets pushed down a hill. The ensuing short is an advanced study on cinematic space and captures the continuity of motion as the rolling barrel moves from location to location, violently h...

  • On the Barricade

    Episode 10

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1907 • France

    This historical drama, which depicts a young boy caught by accident in revolutionary conflict, is notable for its unceremonious depiction of a firing squad in action. Remarkable for its confident use of the full frame, it anticipates director Alice Gu...

  • Falling Leaves

    Episode 11

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1912 • United States
    Starring Magda Foy, Marian Swayne, Mace Greenleaf

    This family melodrama echoes aspects of O. Henry’s 1907 short story “The Last Leaf” and depicts the clever attempts of a concerned young girl trying to save her older sister, who is dying of con...

  • Making an American Citizen

    Episode 12

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1912 • United States
    Starring Lee Beggs, Blanche Cornwall

    Alice Guy Blaché depicts the pressures to assimilate faced by immigrants in this tale of an Eastern European couple who come to the United States, where the husband learns four lessons in “Americanism.”

  • The Girl in the Armchair

    Episode 13

    Directed by Alice Guy Blaché • 1912 • United States
    Starring Blanche Cornwall, Mace Greenleaf

    This drama about a gambling addict and the woman who loves him reveals Alice Guy Blaché to be a master of cinematic space as she skillfully stages action in the foreground and background of the frame an...

  • Suspense

    Episode 14

    Directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley • 1913 • United States
    Starring Lois Weber, Val Paul, Douglas Gerrard

    Lois Weber stars as a young mother who is home alone when a tramp enters the house in this visually captivating and stylistically inventive thriller, featuring a striking chase scene...

  • Mabel’s Strange Predicament

    Episode 15

    Directed by Mabel Normand • 1914 • United States
    Starring Mabel Normand, Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin

    This short farce is often only discussed as the screen debut of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp (here more lecherous and inebriated than in later incarnations). However, director Mabel Normand, who ...

  • Discontent

    Episode 16

    Directed by Lois Weber and Allen G. Siegler • 1916 • United States
    Starring J. Edwin Brown, Charles Hammond, Katherine Griffith

    Director Lois Weber also provided the script for this short family drama, which follows a discontented Civil War veteran who leaves the home for aging soldiers where he...

  • Harlequin

    Episode 17

    Directed by Lotte Reiniger • 1931 • Germany

    Lotte Reiniger had already completed her full-length masterpiece THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED when she made this animated tale of romance. A love story set to a baroque score, HARLEQUIN is a delicate black-and-white ballet rendered through exquisite...

  • A Night on Bald Mountain

    Episode 18

    Directed by Claire Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff • 1933 • France

    Taking eighteen months to make, this dizzyingly surreal pinscreen animation interprets music by Mussorgsky as interplay between shadow/light, permanence/impermanence, motion/stillness, human/animal, and night/day. Claire Parker an...

  • The Stolen Heart

    Episode 19

    Directed by Lotte Reiniger • 1934 • Germany

    Based on a fable by Ernst Keienburg, this short drama exhibits an entrancing sense of space. Its story about a monstrous man who steals a town’s musical instruments has led scholars to make the case that THE STOLEN HEART is an anti-Nazi allegory. When ...

  • Papageno

    Episode 20

    Directed by Lotte Reiniger • 1935 • Germany

    An example of Lotte Reiniger’s animated music films based on opera, PAPAGENO is filled with impeccable attention to detail. Papageno, a bird catcher from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” idles away the time with his avian companions, fights an undulating sn...

  • Day of Freedom

    Episode 21

    Directed by Leni Riefenstahl • 1935 • Germany

    Taking its title from the Nuremberg Rally of 1935, this short documentary presents the armed forces of the Third Reich as an efficient system of bodies and machines in motion. The film is a dangerous celebration—through dynamic visuals and careful ed...

  • Parabola

    Episode 22

    Directed by Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth • 1937 • United States

    Produced by Mary Ellen Bute’s company, Expanding Cinema, and made in collaboration with Ted Nemeth and sculptor Rutherford Boyd, PARABOLA is a celebration of film’s ability to create new ways of seeing the forms around us. Creatin...

  • Spook Sport

    Episode 23

    Directed by Mary Ellen Bute, Norman McLaren, Ted Nemeth • 1940 • United States

    SPOOK SPORT announces itself as a new kind of film ballet comprised of “color, music, and movement” and is a lively interpretation of a night at a graveyard, where colored shapes representing bats, ghosts, and spooks ...

  • Meshes of the Afternoon

    Episode 24

    Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid • 1943 • United States
    Starring Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid

    Cinematic trance-maker Maya Deren and her husband Alexander Hammid launched an underground revolution with this avant-garde landmark—shot in their Hollywood home, but a world away from the co...