Rose Theatre

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers

In the Wild West days of early filmmaking—before Hollywood hardened into an assembly-line behemoth and boys’ club—talented women worked regularly as writers, producers, and directors, instrumental in shaping the very language of cinema as we know it. Nevertheless, figures like Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber are known today primarily by aficionados, and artists like Nell Shipman, Grace Cunard, and Marion E. Wong remain woefully obscure. Bringing together dozens of essential new restorations, this series spotlights the daring, innovative, and trailblazing work of the first female filmmakers and restores their centrality to the creation of cinema itself.

Series Selections

Back to God's Country

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series. One of the most dynamic personalities both on and off screen in the silent era, Canadian producer and director Nell Shipman wrote and stars in this Far North-set adventure about a resourceful frontierswoman who uses her wits to survive in the Arctic while fending off menacing men. Shot through with Shipman’s reverence for nature (she was early champion of animal rights), BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY became the most successful Canadian film of the silent era.

Double Bill: Suspense & Hypocrites

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series. A double bill! SUSPENSE is a one-reel thriller that includes film history's first split-screen. HYPOCRITES was made in 1915, director Lois Weber courted controversy with this provocative exploration of sham religious piety, in which moral hypocrisy is exposed by The Naked Truth--portrayed literally by a nude actress.

Where are my Children?

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series. The controversial drama from 1916 is a frank and, for its time, surprisingly risky look at abortion, birth control and sexuality that weds director Lois Weber’s innovative cinematic style to an impassioned (though now surprisingly retrograde) sociopolitical statement.

Triple Bill: A Fool and his Money, Matrimony's Speed Limit, The Ocean Waif

Pioneers: First Female Filmmakers series. A triple bill! Including the oldest know film to feature an all-African American cast (1912), a comedic short about a man with 12 minutes to marry and a touching, beautifully crafted melodrama about a young woman who falls in love with a writer while attempting to escape her abusive stepfather.

Double Bill: The Curse of Quon Gwon, Motherhood: Life's Greatest Miracle

Pioneers: First Female Filmmaker series. Double bill! The first film, directed by Marion E. Wong in 1916, was the very first Chinese-American feature and centers around assimilation and an ancient curse. The second film, directed by Lita Lawrence in 1925 was recently discovered and restored, and is a daring look at abortion and birth control.

The Red Kimona

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series. Writer, producer, director and actress Dorothy Davenport made a splash in the 1920s with a string of socially conscious, taboo-shattering exposes, including this ripped-from-the-headlines shocker about a woman forced into a life of prostitution. Davenport herself said: “I believe it takes a woman to believe in a woman’s motives, and every story intended for the screen should have a woman working on it at some stage to convince the audience of women.”


Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers series. The passion project of Russian-born actress and producer Alla Nazimova, this outrageously stylized adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s notorious play – based on the biblical story of the teenage princess who lusts after the severed head John the Baptist – is a delicious, decadent avant-garde spectacle. Its status as a queer classic rests both on its Art Nouveau-camp style and on the legend that the bisexual Nazimova cast the film entirely with gay actors.