Overlooked No More: Alice Guy Blaché, the World’s First Female Filmmaker

At Solax, she successfully made the transition to feature filmmaking, creating longer, more narratively complex titles that were well-received, though they also entailed higher production costs and longer preparations. Yet while Blaché navigated the shift to features creatively, she didn’t weather the seismic changes affecting the fast-growing movie world, including monopolistic distribution practices. By 1914, she and Herbert Blaché had joined forces with another enterprise for which they both directed.

The last chapter of Blaché’s filmmaking career was marred by setbacks and disappointments both in her new ventures with her husband and as a director for hire. She made “The Ocean Waif,” a touching romance about an abused young woman and a writer that gives (almost) equal weight to both.

Other films followed, but by the time she directed the well-regarded “Her Great Adventure,” Blaché was struggling with her health, financial difficulties, a broken marriage and continued industry upheaval. She declined to direct a “Tarzan” movie. In 1922, the Solax studio was auctioned off, and Blaché, now divorced, returned to France with her two children.

In France she tried to find film work with no luck. It’s unclear why she didn’t succeed, although by the 1920s, the movies were a big business and no longer as hospitable to women who wanted to make their own films. She sold her books, paintings and other possessions and wrote articles and children’s stories.

She and her daughter, who worked for the American Foreign Service, spent the last years of World War II in Switzerland, where Blaché began writing her memoir. She also tried to find her films, but most were unavailable and presumed lost. She nevertheless persevered, gave interviews and in time gained some recognition for her pioneering role in cinema.

Blaché wrote of her life: “It is a failure; is it a success? I don’t know.” She died on March, 24, 1968, in a nursing home in New Jersey. She was 94.

In 2012, the Fort Lee Film Commission installed a new gravestone for Blaché. The original one had noted only her name and the dates of her birth and death. The new memorial states that Alice Guy Blaché was “first woman motion picture director,” the “first woman studio head” and the “president of the Solax Company, Fort Lee, N.J.”

The memorial is also adorned with the Solax logo: an image of the sun rising on a new day.


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