In the early years of the film industry, countless women shaped the language of cinema. These fearless filmmakers enjoyed remarkable creative freedom, addressing a wide range of topics and working in every genre. As the industry matured, and men took over almost exclusively behind the camera, women’s innovations and contributions were lost to time. Well-known directors like Alice Guy-Blaché and Lois Weber and director/star Mabel Normand are obscure, and others, like Grace Cunard, Ida May Park, and Marion E. Wong, are completely anonymous. The Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series at Cinema Detroit aims to restore their centrality to the creation of cinema itself by spotlighting these women, and others like them.

Each short film is a new 4K restoration of the work of trailblazing female directors, producers, and writers, and is presented with either live accompaniment or all new recorded musical scores, most by women composers.

Tickets are $12; students/seniors/veterans $11; Cinema Detroit members $10.50. No passes, discounts, coupons, or any other offers apply.

The Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series is made possible by the Detroit Shetown Film Festival, Final Girls, and the Cinema Studies program at Oakland University.

First Among Women: Alice Guy-Blaché

Sunday, November 11 at 5:00 p.m.
Live accompaniment by John Lauter

Thursday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Newly composed and recorded scores by Liz Magnes, Carolyn Swartz, Meg Morley, Andrew Simpson, and Eunice Martins

Running time 1hr 16min

Alice Guy-Blaché was an incomparable trailblazer. From 1896 to 1906, she was probably the only woman film director in the world, and she was the first director of any gender to make a narrative fiction film. Working her way up from secretary to Léon Gaumont, she led Gaumont Chronophone for a decade, and later owned her own production company, Solax. Her essential films address themes of race, sexuality, and women’s empowerment, among others.

Funny Lady:  Mabel Normand

Sunday, November 18 at 5:00 p.m.
Newly composed and recorded scores by Liz Magnes, Lisa Mezzacappa, and Ben Model

Friday, November 23 at 5:00 p.m.
Live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis

Running time 1hr 08min

According to Mack Sennett, for whom both parties worked, Charlie Chaplin learned to direct films from Mabel Normand. “[She] starred in at least 167 film shorts and 23 full-length features, mainly for Sennett’s Keystone Film Company, and was one of the earliest silent actors to function as her own director. She was also one of the first leading performers to appear on film without a previous background in the theatre (having begun her career in modeling), to be named in the title of her films…and to have her own studio (the ill-fated Mabel Normand Feature Film Company).” – Women Film Pioneers Project

The Auteur: Lois Weber

Sunday, November 25 at 5:00 p.m.
Live accompaniment by John Lauter

Thursday, November 29 at 7:00 p.m.
With newly composed and recorded scores by Ben Model, Andrew Simpson, and Skylar Nam

Running time 1hr 40min

As respected, popular, and, for a time, as highly paid, as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, Weber used complex storytelling and amazing technical breakthroughs to the intracacies of social issues that are still relevant today.

Rediscovered Voices

Sunday, December 02 at 5:00 p.m.
Live accompaniment by John Lauter

Thursday, December 06 at 7:00 p.m.
With newly composed and recorded scores by Rob Gal Amy Denio, Renée C. Baker, Maud Nelissen, Carolyn Swartz, and Chris Tsambis

Running time 2hr 04min

This survey of women’s lesser-known work in many genres includes action/adventure from Grace Cunard, comedy by Angela Murray Gibson, documentary by Zora Neale Hurston, and dramas from Ida May Park, Lule Warrenton, and Marion E. Wong.