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October 22, 2001

'Women and the Silent Screen' conference to include two screenings

By John Newman

Women played a remarkable role in the early film industry, enjoying degrees of creative control that remain unparalleled even today. As directors, screenwriters, and actors, they helped shape the contours of cinematic language in the early 20th century.

Silent star Lillian Gish plays director.
Germaine Dulac's silent masterpiece The Smiling Madame Beudet will be screened on November 2 at 8 p.m. in the Music Recital Hall.
Two evening screenings will celebrate the work of key silent film pioneers, bringing these films to life with new scores by contemporary female composers and thus celebrating women's artistic collaborations across eras.

The screenings will be held in conjunction with a major international gathering of silent film scholars at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the first of its kind in the United States, organized by Professors Amelie Hastie and Shelley Stamp of UCSC's Department of Film and Digital Media.

Germaine Dulac's The Smiling Madame Beudet will be screened Friday, November 2, at the Music Center Recital Hall, 8 p.m. The Smiling Madame Beudet is one of the outstanding achievements of 1920s French cinema.

Its daring exploration of cinematic language and its bold feminist perspective make it a touchstone for all those interested in silent film.

A fully restored print, unique in the United States and on loan from Yale University, will be shown. The New Music Ensemble, under Nicole Paiement's direction, will perform the world premiere of a new score by Bay Area composer Carolyn Yarnell, commissioned especially for this event. Yarnell's compositions have been performed throughout the country, at Aspen, Tanglewood, and elsewhere. This is her first film score.

The Smiling Madame Beudet will be accompanied by two comic shorts, Algie the Miner and Hallroom Girls, directed by Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber, the two earliest female filmmakers in the world. On loan from the Library of Congress, these films are rarely shown in public.

Heart O' the Hills, starring Mary Pickford, will screen Saturday, November 3, in the Media Theater at 8 p.m. This film was restored by the Pickford Foundation in 1999. Produced by the Mary Pickford Co., it features the actress at the height of her career. At this time Pickford was one of the most famous women in the world; known largely for her childlike film roles, Pickford was also an astute businesswoman who worked tirelessly behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.

Renowned silent film composer Maria Newman will conduct a performance of her new score for the film. The youngest daughter of the nine-time Academy Award-winning composer/conductor Alfred Newman, Maria Newman has produced an impressive repertoire of music for film and for a variety of vocal and instrumental settings. In addition to her work with the Pickford Foundation, Newman has composed silent film scores for Turner Classic Movies and the Library of Moving Images. Heart O' the Hills will be accompanied by the short film Trail of the North Wind, directed by Nell Shipman, famed for her rugged outdoor animal adventure films.

In addition to the screenings, some 60 scholars from across the United States, Canada, and Europe will gather in Santa Cruz to share their research on early women filmmakers, screenwriters, theorists, and stars. This will be the first-ever U.S. gathering of these scholars, all of whom are working in this relatively new field.

While research on silent cinema, long neglected by film historians, has been revitalized over the past 15 years by pioneering scholarship, little work had been done on women working in the industry behind the scenes until quite recently.

This conference provides the opportunity to take stock of this emerging field and to bring together for the first time scholars who are dispersed around the country and around the world, allowing them to share research, approaches, and resources; assess the field; and consider how work on women in early cinema has an impact on broader questions of film historiography and theory. Scholarship produced at this event will transform not only who is included in histories of the medium, but how that history is written.

Panels will address the following topics: Labor and Production in the Early Studio System; Reading Star Discourse; Theories of Female Authorship; Race and Ethnicity in Early Film; Making Movies Respectable: Reformers, Activists, Educators, Audiences and Intertexts; Female Bodies in Motion: Flappers, Comedians and Serial Queens; and Lost Films, Lost Histories.

Presentations will take place at the WestCoast Santa Cruz Hotel: Friday, November 2, 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, November 3, 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 4, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Two keynote addresses will be given: "Women Film Pioneers: The Fantasy of Producing Fantasies," by Jane Gaines (Duke University, director of the Women Film Pioneers Research Project) Friday, November 2, 6:15 p.m. at the WestCoast Santa Cruz Hotel; and "Resurrecting Frances Marion: A Personal Journey," by Cari Beauchamp (author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood), Sunday, November 4, 9 a.m., WestCoast Santa Cruz Hotel.

The two faculty members coordinating this conference are experts in the fields of silent cinema and women's filmmaking. Professor Shelley Stamp is a leading authority on women and silent cinema. Her book Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture After the Nickelodeon was named to Choice magazine's list of Outstanding Academic Titles last year. She holds a UC President's Fellowship to study the work of early filmmaker Lois Weber.

Professor Amelie Hastie is completing a book on the autobiographical writings of early female directors and stars. She serves on the editorial board of Camera Obscura, the leading feminist film/media studies journal, and has published work in a variety of film and television venues, including Afterimage, Cinema Journal, and Postscript.

Major funding has been provided by the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the UCSC Arts Division, and the Department of Film and Digital Media. The conference is part of a series of events planned for the next two years by the Research Unit on Race, Gender and Popular Culture in the Early Twentieth Century, organized by Professors Amelie Hastie, Shelley Stamp, and Curtis Marez.

The research unit receives major funding from the UCSC Institute for Humanities Research. Additional support comes from the Departments of American Studies, Community Studies, Literature, Music, Sociology, and Women's Studies, as well as UCSC Arts & Lectures, the UCSC Women's Center, and the Center for Cultural Studies. All events are free and open to the public.

For more information call: (831) 459-5655, or visit the web site.

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