By Livia Peterson
The University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee’s Film Studies program hosted the Women Film Pioneers symposium, alongside the Pioneers film series at the Oriental Theatre (2230 North Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee’s Upper East Side) this weekend. As a Film Studies major, this event could not be missed due to I received a crash course in early feminist film history and networking is vital for one’s career. The Film History I — 1890s to 1940s is a required course to provide some context. If there weren’t silent films, we wouldn’t have our color films today.
Columbia’s Jane M. Gaines, University of California — Santa Cruz’s Shelley Stamp, University of Minnesota — Twin Cities’ Maggie Hennefeld, and University of Washington’s Jennifer M. Bean provided various perspectives in early feminist film history.
Hugo Ljungback and UW-Milwaukee’s Dr. Tami Williams, associate professor of Film Studies and English introduced the symposium.
While Dr. Gaines discussed why women were erased in the silent film era such as Alla Nazimova performed a dual role, the rise and fall, and Alice Guy-Blache’s importance in revolutionizing cinema, Dr. Stamp answered some of Dr. Gaines questions such as how women contributed to film history.
As Dr. Hennefeld’s discussion provided immense laughter, she examined why slapstick performed an essential role in silent films. It allowed the spectators to escape from reality and if one is able to view some silent film clips, the situations are ridiculous. Dr. Bean discussed the serial consisting of short subjects exhibited in consecutive order and why this subject is fascinating in regards to the feminist perspective.
All the scholars agreed the film history should be taught differently, with equal respect to the women pioneers. Georges Méliès, Lumiere brothers, and Thomas Edison are well known, but not even any film student heard of Alice Guy-Blache. I haven’t heard of Guy-Blache until recently, when I screened Pamela B. Green’s Be Natural. It is extremely heartbreaking in today’s male dominated film industry, as women continue to struggle to write, produce, and direct films.
Dr. Gaines, Dr. Stamp, Dr. Hennefeld, and Dr. Bean provided some hope, as extensive research is currently conducted to ensure the women pioneers such as Guy-Blache are not erased in film history. Our very own Dr. Williams and Dr. Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece inspire us to examine the film industry in various perspectives. I cannot thank the amazing aforementioned film scholars enough, as they remind us the early cinema shapes today’s film industry and more.
Thank you once again to Dr. Williams, Haley Richards, and Hugo Ljungback.