BE NATURAL Rediscovers a Historic Filmmaker [DVD Review]

French director Alice Guy-Blaché is celebrated in Pamela B. Green’s fast-paced documentary

Guy-Blaché, on the left, directing a scene.

The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign and a director’s dogged research, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché delves into the life and work of the first woman director, a French employee at Gaumont named Alice. From her first glimpse of motion pictures, she felt drawn to work with them. She made her first short in 1896, one of the earliest examples of narrative film.

In the documentary now out on VOD and DVD from Kino Lorber, Jodie Foster narrates the events of Guy-Blaché’s life; silhouettes and digital animation of archived materials illustrate her story. Director Pamela D. Green’s investigation process is shown, a fast-paced collection of Skype calls to possible descendants of the French filmmaker. The feature speeds through decades of Guy-Blaché’s history, using clips from her original work when available. There’s even footage of Guy-Blaché directing one of her silent shorts.

After taking a trip for Gaumont to the states, she and her husband decided to stay, founding a studio named Solax in New Jersey. The early work she did for Gaumont was for commercial purposes — to help exhibit equipment the business made.

As a result of that, she had no rights to her own works for the company. Green’s film shows the fierceness of her fight for authorship in her later years, as film history books wrongly attribute her shorts to male directors and ignore her contributions. It was like she was pointedly forgotten by the canon in her own lifetime.

Green talked to numerous modern actors and directors, so we hear how many of them were already familiar with Guy-Blaché (not many). The French director’s impact on other prestigious filmmakers, such as Eisenstein, is explored. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché reminds the viewer there are still neglected histories of marginalized voices yet to be amplified. In her engaging documentary, Green (re)introduces us to one and inspires us to search out others.

Guy-Blaché, holding an umbrella.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is available on DVD from Kino Lorber.

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