Interview by Alexandra Hidalgo
How did Be Natural come about? What drew you to this spectacular story?
I was watching AMC and they had a show called Reel Models. They were talking about pioneering women in cinema, and they had featured a little section about Alice Guy. I didn’t go to film school but I was surprised that I had never heard of her. Then when I asked several people I realized that they had never heard of her either. And I just kept asking and I realized that I had to tell her story.
This film has taken you all over the world and Gala Minasova does research and investigative work with you, tracking down lost films and other vestiges of Guy-Blaché and her work. Can you talk about the process of making the film and about the role that Gala has played in it?
Gala has been my detective partner and really my partner in crime in getting Alice out of the shadows through our research and discoveries. Without our collaboration, along with curator and writer Joan Simon, the documentary would not have uncovered new information that changes what we know about early cinema and how important Alice’s role was.
You worked with Jarik Van Sluijs, co-founded PIC, an agency that produces content and title sequences for studio films. In which way has your work at PIC influenced the way you engage with Guy-Blaché’s story?
Everything from the way we’ve done the research to the way we recreate Alice’s world graphically, using VFX (3D modeling, compositing, and animation), to the manner in which we are editing the film, is designed to put ourselves and you in Alice’s shoes.
Our stylistic approach to this amazingly rich subject matter will boast 2D and 3D CGI recreations of the locations, technologies, objects, and settings of Alice’s story. But CGI is simply one of the many tools we are using, and we will be mixing it with a multitude of other media. These include stock stills and footage combined (which is something I personally love) with recently discovered assets, such as nitrate film (which we have had transferred and restored), 8mm film, video, slides, and other materials. All this supports the themes of mysteries to be investigated and understanding of the many controversies surrounding this remarkably creative woman.
In Be Natural we will continue to enhance the graphic approach we have perfected in previous projects such as The Kingdom, 42, and Bhutto—for which we received an Emmy-nomination as co-producers—and the mini-documentary sequences for VH1?s Soul Divas: History of Soul Music. Our aesthetic approach will be guided by the look and feel of the turning point between the Belle Époque and the early 20th century filtered through a modern lens. We aim not just to look back at Alice’s past, but to stand next to her and look into her future—our present.
Not surprisingly, given how powerful this project is, you have gathered support from Robert Redford, who is one of the executive producers, and Jodie Foster, who is doing the narration. What has the experience of working with them been like and in which way has it enriched the project?
We are extremely grateful to have them both on board. They have been incredible and supportive in helping us get Alice’s story told.
Besides creating this vital documentary, you have also managed to rescue some of Guy-Blaché’s lost films by tracking them down and getting them restored. What has that process been like?
It has been really one of the most difficult and costly aspects of this documentary because of their condition and their locations, which are literally spread out across the globe. There is an approval process that also needs to happen for preservation or restoration as well as the process itself, which is why it has taken us this long to get Be Natural made.
As someone who studies copyright, I was rather shocked to learn that when an out-of-copyright work is restored, it becomes copyrighted once again, this time by those who did the restoration. Can you talk about that and how it has affected the process of making Be Natural?
Once someone restores a film it is no longer free of charge. We have to license the film, which is costly, especially because we are donation-based.
You successfully raised $200,000 on a Kickstarter campaign for Be Natural. Do you have any advice for women filmmakers running their own crowdfunding campaigns?
Make sure you have a network of friends and colleagues ready to be your “social media team” to help you get the word out and reach out to anyone and everyone to help you. Be very concise and clear with your message and keep it short and to the point.
You’re currently trying to raise additional funds to complete the film. What will that money help you achieve and how can people contribute?
We are always adding to our already broad base of support. We welcome contributions, which can be made to a 501c3 via a PayPal on our site: benaturalthemovie.com. Contributions will help us pay for the licensing of vintage TV interviews with Alice, and for the rights to use restored examples of her films.
How different do you think the role of women in film would be today if Guy-Blaché’s vital contribution to the origin of filmmaking hadn’t been erased?
If people knew about Alice, the landscape might have looked a little different and she would be more of a role model and early cinema would have less of an absence of women filmmakers. That is a big maybe. All we can do is change the future.
Do you have any advice for women filmmakers burning to tell complex, feminist stories like Be Natural?
Never give up, stay on message.
Alice is one of many female filmmakers—historic pioneers and contemporary writers, directors, and producers liker her—whose work needs to be known. We look forward to many other stories of creative businesswomen.
Please join us in getting across the finish line; we are very close. All contributions, whether small or large, are important gifts. Please visit our site, where you will find a PayPal for making 501c3 donations.