Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968), the world’s first woman filmmaker, was one of the key figures in the development of narrative film. From 1896 to 1920 she directed hundreds of short films (including over 100 sychronized sound films and twenty-two feature films), produced hundreds more, and was the first – and so far the only – woman to own and run her own studio plant (The Solax Studio in Fort Lee, NJ, 1910-1914). However, her role in film history was completely forgotten until her own memoir. In 1894 Alice Guy was hired by Léon Gaumont to work for a still-photography company as a secretary. The company soon went out of business but Gaumont bought the defunct operations inventory and began his own company that soon became a major force in the fledgling motion picture industry in France. Alice Guy decided to join the new Gaumont Film Company, a decision that led to a pioneering career in filmmaking spanning more than twenty-five years and involving her directing, producing, writing and/or overseeing more than 700 films.
From 1896 to 1906, Alice Guy was Gaumont’s head of production and is generally considered to be the first filmmaker to systematically develop narrative filmmaking. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big budget production for the time, which included 300 extras. As well, she was one of the pioneers in the use of recordings in conjunction with the images on screen in Gaumont’s “Chronophone” system, which used a vertical-cut disc synchronized to the film. An innovator, she employed special effects, using double exposure masking techniques and even running a film backwards.