When most people make their lists of the ‘best’ directors of all time or the most ‘influential’ directors, you’ll see the expected names like Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Charlie Chaplin, and so on. But there is almost always someone missing from these lists and that conversation and in the now available to rent/purchase film Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, all of that is about to change.
Alice Guy-Blaché is now recognized as one of the true pioneer filmmakers and creators of the medium, a legacy that was systematically dismantled, destroyed or denied for decades as institutional sexism pushed her contributions aside in favor of the narratives of the origin of cinema that we know today. Born Alice Ida Antoinette Guy in Saint-Mandé, France in 1873, Guy-Blaché became active as a filmmaker in the late 19th century for a period right at the turn of the century was the only known working female filmmaker in the world. Inspired by the early works of Gaumont, the Lumière’s and Thomas Edison, she grew fickle with film being used for just academic purposes (or, in Edison’s case, to be a vehicle to sell cameras) and sought out to create actual stories. She is credited with creating the first narrative feature ever with 1896’s The Cabbage Fairy. She emigrated to the United States, first in Flushing, New York and then setting up her own studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In her over 1000 films Guy-Blaché used Gaumont’s Chronophone sync-sound system as a jumping off point, experimenting with color-tinting, interracial casting, and special effects. In 1912 she made A Fool and His Money, believed to be the first film ever with an all African-American cast, a film that is now in the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute.
Director Pamela Green’s film is a meticulously told story that unfolds as a thrilling adventure as she tracks down distant relatives, accidental archivists with boxes of films thought lost forever and narrated by two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, whose command of the French language makes her invaluable here. Navigating interviews of over 100 people, including directors, actors and producers like Ava DuVernay, Gale Anne Hurd, Patty Jenkins, Geena Davis and Julie Delpy – many learning about Guy-Blaché for the first time – Green has created a crucial piece of the puzzle of the origin of cinema as we know it and a seminal documentary on film history.
Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché screened at the Telluride, BFI, NYFF and Deauville film festivals and was in the Cannes Classics selection of the Cannes Film Festival. See below how to watch the film for yourself and enrich your film knowledge today.