The late actress Dorothy Davenport launched her career early, making a name for herself at Universal Studios by the age of 17. She later turned to directing and producing films — although her name often appears in the credits as Mrs. Wallace Reid, even in the years after her husband passed away. At least one of those films, The Red Kimono, is now set for rerelease under her given name, nearly 100 years after its premiere, as part of the largest ever commercially released collection of films by female directors.
“Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers” is a massive undertaking by film distributor Kino Lorber to celebrate motion pictures made by female American directors between 1910 and 1929. That period marks the end of the silent film era, by which time many women had anchored themselves at the top of the studio system, sitting behind the camera with the authority to control what it recorded. Yet their films are not well known today — many exist only in poor condition or fragments; others were not regarded as good enough to be released on video.
Now, hopefully, they will be, thanks to a Kickstarter that Kino Lorber launched last month to celebrate this early generation of female filmmakers. (Previously, the studio successfully funded a collection of landmark films by African American directors.) Selected by Shelley Stamp, a professor at the University of California, the movies include productions helmed by Lois Weber, Alice Guy Blaché, Ida May Park, and Nell Shipman, among others.
The five-disc box set will feature 20 hours of material, with 35mm and 16mm films restored and transferred to HD footage as well interviews with film historians and archivists. Donations towards the campaign’s $44,000 goal will help Kino Lorber access archives around the world, including the Library of Congress, the George Eastman Museum, Archives Canada, New York Women in Film & Television, and the British Film Institute. Besides the costs of mastering, the raised funds will also cover the creation of musical scores, commissioned in a range of styles, that will give new voices these mostly silent motion pictures.
“By showcasing the ambitious, inventive films from the golden age of women directors, we can get a sense of what was lost by the marginalization of women to ‘support roles’ within the film industry,” Kino Lorber said in a statement. The studio’s campaign ends on November 18; as of press time, it is less than $5,000 away from its goal.
“Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers” is fundraising on Kickstarter through November 18.