One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!
Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.
‘Be Natural’ Review
Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon
Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.
I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.
By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.
It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.
I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.
* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide
Check out the trailer:
Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green
Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.
Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green
As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.
Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?
I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.
I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.
Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?
Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.
Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?
Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.
Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?
Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.
Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?
Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].
Take the journey and discover the true origins of cinema in theaters this April at @LaemmleMonica and @IFCCenter pic.twitter.com/pjNDSd2xRj
— Be Natural (@BeNaturalMovie) April 6, 2019
As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.
Follow the film journey online:
Thanks so much Pamela B. Green for chatting with FlixChatter!
9 thoughts on “Documentary Spotlight – ‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’ + Interview with writer/director Pamela B. Green”
I heard about this doc about Guy-Blanche as I want to see it as I hope this doc gives her more exposure but also put her name in the history books.
Hi Steven! I do hope you get to see this as this film opens in more cities. I think given your extensive knowledge of film history you’d love this one!
Hey Flixy, awesome post and interview! I surely had never heard of Alice and love documentaries so this is certainly a film for me to see. Very glad you discovered it!
Hi Becky! I really think you’d enjoy this film and yes, Alice Guy is such an important figure. I fell in love w/ her after watching this, she seemed like a delightful woman who lived a long, illustrious life.
I’ve never heard of Alice Guy and it’s surprising, well not really, that her name was left out of being one of the pioneers of cinemas. Hollywood’s always been a (white) boys’ club and it’s sad that women filmmakers still haven’t been given more opportunity to make more films.
This documentary sounds great, hope Netflix or Amazon buys it so me and many other people can watch it.
Hi Ted! Yeah Hollywood still is a white boys club. I mean change is slowly coming to be more inclusive but not really at the top level. It’s astounding though that what truly affects gender parity in film is actually Wall Street which is even more of a white boys club!
So yeah, hope you get to see this film one day!
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