Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker, written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker
Written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
Review Copy from Chronicle Books
*A note in the back matter informs readers that the title cards used in Light! Camera! Alice! to mark episodes in her life are all titles from films that she made!
I'll be honest, I almost tore through Rockliff's story of Alice Guy-Blaché to get to the back matter and learn more about this amazing woman I had never heard of. I was especially keen to find out how she had fallen into such profound obscurity. Bottom line, men write history. So I want to start this review by thanking Rockliff for correcting (excavating?) history with Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker. As the title suggests, Rockliff focuses (appropriately) on Alice's creativity and passion for storytelling and the exciting innovations she brought to the art and craft of filmmaking.
Rockliff introduces readers to young Alice as a girl who lived on stories, with a charming illustration by Ciraolo that evokes Carroll's Alice, reading in the grass before her adventures down a rabbit hole. Finding work at a camera company, Alice is introduced to a camera that can film moving pictures, and her love of stories comes into play as she makes films with narratives, something entirely new at the time. Initially, her films are used to show customers what these new cameras can do, but over time, people begin paying to see Alice's films. Rival filmmakers even sneak onto the sets of Alice's films to steal her ideas!
Marriage, children and a move to New York City (where silly Americans think that "a man named Thomas Edison invented moving pictures.") bring further innovation and success, as well as her own movie studio - Solax Co. - for Alice. And then Alice's fortunes take a turn for the worse. Rockliff is vague (appropriately so, considering this is a kid's book) about specific causes for this turn and Alice returns to France with her children, having lost her husband (to Hollywood) and her studio (to auction). There, she writes her memoir.

Superb back matter, titled, "Director's Cut," answers some of the questions about Alice, but, sadly, brings up more depressing details about her obscurity, including having credit for her films given to men who worked on her films (and even some who didn't!) while her name was scrubbed from them. While Alice did complete her memoirs, she could not find a publisher for them until 1986. Rockliff includes books, articles, secondary sources and a list of movies for readers who want to know more.

Lights! Camera! Alice! does two important things - this book makes Alice Guy-Blaché's name and the brilliance of her work known to young readers who will be inspired by her creativity and passion (and possibly also be inspired to excavate the names and works of other important women from obscurity) and this book also informs young readers (in the back matter) that women film directors are still rare. And hopefully this might start a conversation with young readers about equity and opportunities for women in the film industry and all industries that are male dominated.


 More fantastically fascinating non-fiction picture books from Rockliff:





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