portraits
Portrait
Cinema

Alice Guy

Daughter of a publisher, I read a lot, absorbed quite a lot. But my young age, my inexperience, my sex, all conspired against me

The first female director, scriptwriter and producer in history, Alice Guy remains a forgotten figure despite her prestigious career. By putting her name to a thousand films in 20 years, this film pioneer revolutionised film before Hollywood was established.

Updated on 08/09/2020

5 min

The film-maker and producer Alice Guy was born in 1873 and died in 1968, leaving a huge career behind her, carried out on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. She mixed with the film world from 1896, as secretary of the Comptoir Général de la Photographie at Gaumont. At the heart of the studio, she befriended the Lumière brothers and Frédéric Dillaye, who taught film-making. After persevering, her boss allowed her to make her own films, on her own time. If at the time film was only a leisure activity and had not yet earned its cultural standing, Alice Guy released her first short film La Fée au choux (The Fairy of the Cabbages) (1890). On the strength of its success, she became the first female director but also the first female director in the world by founding her own studio, La Solax, in the United States.

 

Melodramas, Westerns, romances, comedies, fantasy … Alice Guy explored all genres and chose to campaign: she showed sexist clichés in Madame a ses envies (Madame has Desires) (1906), reversed genders in The Consequences of Feminism (1906) or put Black actors in the spotlight in A Fool and His Money (1912). From 1910, this key figure in film used her French notoriety to set up the most influential production studio in the United States: La Solax. Her unfaithful and playboy husband, Herbert Blaché Bolton, who managed its finances, brought down the company. Ruined, the director returned to France and observed the rise of Hollywood, powerless. Despite meeting those who shaped film, from Charlie Chaplin to Max Linder, Alice Guy was ignored by her peers and would spend the rest of her life claiming responsibility for her work.

Master of film before Hollywood was established, paradoxically the image of Alice Guy has been erased over the years. If she received her diploma of partner from Gaumont in 1900 during the Universal Exhibition which would reveal itself to be a real springboard for her career, it wasn't until 1957 before she received a tribute at the Cinémathèque française film organisation and a Legion of Honour – one year later – for her prolific work. Since 2018, this forgotten icon is celebrated each year posthumously, thanks to Véronique Le Bris and Hélène Mazzella, through the Alice Guy prize. Founded to encourage female directors to endeavour in the predominantly male profession, this award is therefore given to a female film director and her film.

  • 1900

    1900

    With La Fée aux choux, a fantasy film lasting one minute, she became the world’s first female director.

  • 1910

    1910

    She set up her first studio, Le Solax and started a career in the United States.

  • 1922

    1922

    Alice Guy came back to France, ruined.

  • 1927

    1927

    Not finding any work, she went back to the United States to retrieve her work, in vain.

  • 1968

    1968

    Alice Guy died in America.

L'Institut français et l'artiste

Alice Guy is part of the selection of French directors, in the framework of the cycle Women, Film Pioneers proposed by IFcinéma

13 of Alice Guy's works has been screened internationally by the Institut français. 

The Institut français offers a catalogue of over 2,500 titles, enabling the French cultural network and its partners to screen French films around the world.

Discover IFcinema

 

L'institut français, LAB