Pamela B. Green’s Documentary Honors Filmmaking Pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché

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I met Pamela B. Green at a coffee shop/diner prior to her “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” (2018) film screening for the opening night of the Chicago Feminist Film Festival at Columbia College Chicago. Meeting Pamela, I could feel the force of nature of Alice Guy-Blaché through her passionate words and her film. It’s like Alice called out to Pamela to introduce her to our modern-day world, and she answered the call. The film gave me and the rest of the viewers of the screening such a gift to meet Alice and fall in love with her during the process. I think in film schools “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” should be a required viewing.

MEETING ALICE

REBECCA MARTIN: What inspired you to make “Be Natural”?

PAMELA B. GREEN: I work in Hollywood in the film industry, opening credits for films, and marketing. And I had seen something on TV, it was short segment about women pioneers in cinema. She popped up, there was a little segment about her. And I didn’t know who she was; it was something about looking at her face. The fact that she was a director, a writer, producer, and had her own studio, early on.

MARTIN: How old was she when she got started?

GREEN: Twenty-three, was when she made her first narrative. She was working as a secretary.

MARTIN: Oh wow.

GREEN: So the narrative part, I wasn’t even thinking about that, just a woman who was doing all of these things, was an entrepreneur, and an artist. It bugged me that I didn’t know more about her, but when you don’t know something, you start asking other people, and then I realized that a lot of people don’t know about her. So I then I decided to do something.

MARTIN: What about her life drew you in the most? In terms of her style and the kind of films that she made, what drew you in to that?

Pamela Green

GREEN: For me, I think the biggest thing was, the biggest challenge was, that Hollywood didn’t make this movie, and they didn’t fund it either. And the only way that I was going to be able to make a difference was to find new material. And I love research, I’m a detective by nature.

I knew the only way it was going to work, that she would become known—I didn’t care about my stuff, I wanted to do justice for her—was to find new material, technically it was a detective story, not a history.

MARTIN: That is amazing. I love that.

GREEN: What I like about it, her films are modern and universal and it’s a very modern story of somebody, you know like somebody making films on YouTube or going out as an indie filmmaker. That’s how she started and that’s how we started.

MARTIN: When you say detective story, what does that mean? Was that how you formatted it? Like how you told her story?

GREEN: So Jodie Foster narrated, and she speaks French, so that helps. We needed an amazing voice, and she’s also very intelligent, and a director as well, and understands story. So having her be apart of the collaboration was amazing. And also having the detective element fill in the holes about things we don’t know about Alice was the connector of the dots. I think when you see the film you’ll know what I’m talking about.

MARTIN: Great, looking forward to seeing the film.

GREEN: But it was for me, doing her justice, pretty much, you know, people who may say, “She’s an old lady, was she important? Did she do anything?” Everything that she says, I looked up and it checked out, it was kind of crazy. Whatever she would say… she was my guide in a way.

MARTIN: That’s great.

GREEN: It didn’t end for me until I got everything that she would have hoped for or putting things on the screen to validate what she is saying. It was amazing towards the end of finishing the film, some of these other things popped up, really filled as many holes as possible. Not only to preserve the legacy, but to give her a face, and humanize her, not just to be a footnote, or a tribute, does that make sense?

THE VISIONARIES

MARTIN: Yes it does. So Jodie Foster, how did you connect with her?

GREEN: Well I work in the industry, I work on people’s films. Coincidentally I was going to work on one of her films, and it didn’t happen, but I had someone introduce me to her, and as soon as she heard about the project, she came on board. She stuck with me, during like crazy edits and all of this stuff, and I’m grateful. But the first person to stand behind the project was Robert Redford.

MARTIN: That’s fantastic. Did you show at Sundance?

GREEN: No, I fought to get on his films, the title sequences. First one was “Lions for Lambs” (2007), the second one was “The Conspirator” (2010), and during that time I talked about working on a film about Alice, showed him a piece of it, and he was the first one to fund it. Now we’re talking about six years ago, there’s no #MeToo, there’s really no talk, as there is today, wasn’t a popular subject, so I was told don’t do it, it’s suicide. But obviously now it’s really popular, and I’m glad. Actually I’m a part of the movement, I’m not a vocal person, because of my work, getting to know Alice is a part of the movement, and now I’m as expressive as ever. But back then, it was not discussed, but I got the support of Jodie, Robert, and even Hugh Hefner, my largest donor to the project.

MARTIN: Wow, and he recently passed away.

GREEN: Yeah, right before he passed away, So, when you start something, you’ve got to have a vision. And those who see it at the beginning are the visionaries. Because they’re not looking for something to be popular, I just mentioned three names, there’s also Geralyn Dreyfous, who’s my executive producer, and she did the Mr. Rogers documentary (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018)) and many films. But people who’d seen it from the beginning, when they don’t see the building, but the foundation is there…

MARTIN: They see the vision.

GREEN: Now being a leader, not a follower, it’s very hard to find. It’s very hard to start a project, to get funding, now that’s why it took so long, the funding, but also the research around the world, which you’ll see.

MARTIN: So right now is the film just being shown at different festivals?

GREEN: It’s opening in LA April 19. And opening in New York April 26, and then in Chicago.

MARTIN: Do you know when?

GREEN: No, but it’ll slowly get here.

A PART OF A MOVEMENT

MARTIN: I liked what you said about you being a part of the movement, and the film being a part of the movement. What are your thoughts about how the industry is going?

GREEN: I think it’s changing. I’m more of the silent people; I don’t go tweet seventeen million things.

MARTIN: But you’re still doing a lot, with this film. It’s a gift.

GREEN: Yeah, talk is cheap. And it is a gift, it’s a gift for her, and I feel like, this is for you, Alice. But also for the younger generation; now we’ll know at the beginning of cinema, there is a woman.

MARTIN: Yes, yes.

GREEN: And there’s many women. But she’s the first who had a twenty-two year career. But there’s like sixty other women that have been recognized through the Women’s Pioneers Project at Columbia, in New York, that have been working really hard in documenting all of these things. The whole thing is women have been at the beginning in male-dominated industries. And the more we record and document it we’re going to realize it’s the norm, and it shouldn’t be the dividing work between genders, it’ll be about the art, and the creation of whatever the industry that you’re in. I think “Be Natural” was like working on a mosaic, filling in the holes of history little by little with the research and I think of it as a gift to other people but also like passing on the baton for others to continue the research, fill in the holes, and correct the record.

ADAPTION

MARTIN: This is just a question out of curiosity. Do you think this film could go in a narrative format, in terms of like adaption?

GREEN: Of course, it may be tricky because I’m particular about Alice. I had to do the dirty work first. And as a narrative of course they’re going to have to watch the documentary. The reason why no one did it before me was nobody wanted to do the work. And it’s an expensive, expensive endeavor. The films are in sixty-two archives around the world. It’s like Indiana Jones meets the Pink Panther, and Nancy Drew.

MARTIN: Oh my god, I love that.

GREEN: It’s a combination of all of these things, and how do you make something like this appeal to a wide audience and merge the generation of 2019 to somebody from 1896, really filling in the gap. The great thing about this is when there are events after screenings, you have old people talking to young people. It has a Pixar effect, whether it’s at a university, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you want to talk to older people, younger people gravitate to the older people in the film. The gap of age goes out the window, between the time of Alice and now, goes out the window as well, because it’s a very modern story.

It’s always something. There’s somebody there that wants an opportunity; there’s so many stories like this. It’s just this one has been done in a very modern way. My composer is here for the screening; he really, really, took it to a level that’s really relatable.

FINAL THOUGHTS

GREEN: I hope that people like the movie, when they see it, and hope they are inspired by Alice to either… there’s an Alice in all of us, and just go out there and do it, it doesn’t matter. Especially in 2019, there’s no excuse; if you want to be a filmmaker, just pick up a camera and do the film. Don’t ever worry about someone giving you permission. I didn’t wait for them, I went out and did it on my own. And I’m definitely not waiting on them for any other projects.

MARTIN: Right.

GREEN: You should never wait, you should just go out there. It’s really, really hard, but if you surround yourself with people who are really, really passionate, and really care, and have your back, that’s it. That’s all you need, you just need someone to believe in you, you need to have that. If you work really, really hard, it’s really a lot of effort, but you should be able to make it.

MARTIN: Your passions speak through all of it.

GREEN: Exactly. I would tell people on the street about it, I told somebody on the plane about it. I’m excited about Alice, but you have to really love what you do. If you don’t love it, then you ain’t going to make it.

If you really love it, if you have other people that love what you’re doing, and they love it too, you’re following it.

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