There are many reasons to love Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, the six-DVD set from Kino Lorber. This collection of films by women directors with a focus on American films from 1911-1929 is nothing short of amazing. These sophisticated silent films span all genres — drama, comedy, action, romance — and are themselves a revelation for their style and innovation. But producer Bret Wood has also included several short documentaries that feature a stellar cast of film experts, mostly women, who shed light on the films’ importance to cinema and to American culture.
Offering their insightful, expert and witty commentary are Shelley Stamp, author of “Lois Weber in Early Hollywood” and the curator of the collection; Alison McMahan, author of Alice Guy Blache: Lost Visionary of the Cinema; Jane M. Gaines, author of Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries?; Anthony Slide, author of The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors and Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.
Another terrific component to this box set is the short film that details the extensive restoration process that Kino Lorber undertook with the Library of Congress.
Rob Stone, Moving Image Curator at the Library, explains how, like with Kino Lorber’s previous project Pioneers of African American Cinema, this undertaking allowed the curators to “dig deep into our archive” to unearth films that were long forgotten. They also tracked down missing reels and fragments of films in order to painstakingly restore footage that was often in terrible condition. The Library’s George Willeman, Nitrate Film Vault Manager, and Lynanne Schweighofer, Preservationist Specialist, illuminate this process with their thoughtful, eye-opening commentary. Schweighofer describes a key scene depicting an oil field explosion in Lois Weber’s Sunshine Molly that was just a fragment in a reel that had melted away. The team included it anyway, since it was so important to the rest of Weber’s canon and also underscores the many films that have been lost to neglect or disregard. It’s priceless stuff, and it makes one want to celebrate and cherish a collection like this even more.