Women Film Pioneers
Turner Classic Movies and Women in Film/Los Angeles is celebrating “Trailblazing Women: Behind the Movies, Ahead of Their Time” this October. Over nine nights, TCM is showing fifty films from the silent era to the present showcasing women who worked behind the camera: directors, producers, writers, and editors.
This month’s showcase is only the beginning:
Turner Classic Movies is proud to announce a multi-year programming initiative that aims to shine a spotlight on the historical contributions of women working in the film industry, to raise awareness of the current underrepresentation of women in positions of power within the business, and to promote resources that empower women to participate more fully in the industry.
You can learn more about Trailblazing Women here, and find the schedule of films here. It’s wonderful that TCM is spotlighting women in film, particularly those who worked in the early days of cinema. Women were more involved behind the camera during the silent era than any time since (including today), but their contribution has been largely forgotten.
I first encountered the enormous but under-studied and under-appreciated work of women in silent cinema when I was an undergraduate at Duke University. I was lucky enough to have Professor Jane Gaines as my thesis advisor, and she gave me the opportunity to work on the Women Film Pioneers Project (WFPP), a massive undertaking spearheaded by Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta.
WFPP was originally conceptualized as a multi-volume book focused on women working behind the camera from the beginning of cinema until sound, but the project now exists as an online database headquartered at the Columbia University Center for Digital Research and Scholarship.
WFPP is an incredible, unique, and free resource that showcases the hundreds of women who worked behind the camera all over the world in the silent film era. The WFPP database contains profiles on each woman, great essays on national cinemas and various occupations like editor and director in the silent era, a collection of images and video, and a wealth of archival and bibliographic resources. The goal of the project is to:
jumpstart historical research on the work of women filmmakers from the early years of cinema, ending with the coming of sound; to facilitate a cross-national connection between researchers; to reconfigure world film knowledge by foregrounding an undocumented phenomenon: these women worked in many capacities.
As a baby college student, I was fortunate to be involved in the project, scanning and organizing documents, images, and various other records. I was also lucky enough to contribute career profiles on Paula Blackton and her step-daughter Marion Constance Blackton, two women who acted, wrote, and directed in the 1910’s and ’20s.
Although academic at its core, WFPP is very accessible, and the website is excellent. So, if you catch some of the Trailblazing Women programming on TCM and want to know more, head to WFPP for fantastic essays, profiles, and archival materials.
(Top image: Director Dorothy Arzner in 1932 via: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/dorothy-arzner-queen-hollywood)