I wrote a petite review of Alice Guy-Blaché's Sage Femme de Première Classe (1902) for Write out of L.A.'s list of "100 Films Made by Women." You can find it here.
I became familiar with Guy's work in a French Film independent study that I did with one of my undergraduate mentors. The professor knew that I was interested in gender and women's studies, and so he gave me a lot of room to explore the influence women had on early cinema. Guy's largely credited as being the first female director, and I spent a lot of time looking at how her work was both similar to and different from the male directors contemporaneous with her.
Guy's first film was La Fée aux Choux [The Cabbage Fairy], which she made in 1896. At the time, she was a secretary for early studio mogul Léon Gaumont, and she actually shot La Fée aux Choux over her lunch break as a kind of audition. She eventually become head of production and then later manager for Gaumont, where she's credited with being the first filmmaker to really develop narrative film.
What I loved so much about her work was how different its content is from that of her contemporaries. While she did make standard early cinema fare--trick pictures, dance and travel shows--she also centered themes and action that directly related to women's experience as women. La Fée aux Choux and then its later adaptation Sage Femme de Première Classe are both interested in pregnancy, motherhood, and childbirth. The latter film is particularly special because it's interested in how these things intersect with class and race, which not only being incredibly prescient was also unconventional content for the time.
One of the things I noted to my then-professor, which I think is still the lesson I take away from Guy's work, is that setting aside questions of fair representation, having diverse bodies behind the camera has an impact on the diversity of content that winds up on our screens. We should be invested in having different kinds of people bring their experiences and perspectives to the movies not only because it's good politics but also because it's just plain good entertainment.
This is part of why it's been so much fun reading and contribute to Write out of L.A.'s list of women filmmakers. It's great seeing a film about an Iranian vampire (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) being reviewed next to a queer short (One Night).
I think Ms. Guy would be pleased.
Watch Sage Femme below and go check out the other 7 parts of Write out of L.A.'s list of films by women.