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A New Online Compendium Provides Evidence of the Many Women Who Worked in Film in Its Silent Era

Indiewire By Ramzi De Coster | Indiewire October 10, 2013 at 4:13PM

Columbia University Libraries' newly launched Women Film Pioneers Project is a compendium of film resources and material seeking to reverse the historical fallacy that the film production process is and always has been male-dominated.
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Actress, editor and writer Hettie Gray Baker
Connecticut Historical Society Actress, editor and writer Hettie Gray Baker

Columbia University Libraries' newly launched Women Film Pioneers Project is a compendium of film resources and material seeking to reverse the historical fallacy that the film production process is and always has been male-dominated. As its about section states: "More women worked at all levels inside and outside the Hollywood film industry in the first two decades than at any time since."

Edited by Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal and Monica Dall’Asta, the WFPP strives to illuminate historical fact in order to glorify the lost female filmmaking history of the silent era -- specifically, that women "were not just actresses," and were involved in all aspects of the silent-era film industry, from camera operators to scenario writers to directors and producers.

The site has supplement its historiographical theme and argument with a rich collection of essays, videos and other academic resources that's well worth a look; including articles on early female film editors and African American women in the industry and dozens of profiles of pioneers like Margaret Mayo, Alla NazimovaElena Sánchez Valenzuela and Marion E. Wong.

While "Phase 1" of the website has zeroed in on the United States and Latin America, "Phase II" will address the fact that the role of women in the silent-era film industry was a global phenomenon and as such the website will take an in depth look at the role women played in film in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

For more check out the website here. To mark the launch, Gaines, a professor of film at Columbia, and critic B. Ruby Rich will introduce "Women Daredevils of the Silent Era," a collection of five films and one trailer, at the Museum of Modern Art on October 19th.

This article is related to: Silent Films, Women Film Pioneers Project, Columbia University