Beginning with a wonderful animated opening sequence director Pamela B Green emphasises the significance of Guy-Blaché's story through a collage of filmmaking history. Green is a title-sequence animator by trade and she applies her craft with precision to rewind through the years, from today's big budget blockbusters back to the birth of Hollywood, the early years of Fort Lee and the birth of motion pictures. It is an effective and seemingly expensive introduction to her film, which then turns to talking heads from some of the industry's leading figures.
Alice Guy-Blaché was a pioneer and one of the first filmmakers to explore fiction and fantasy through celluloid. Working at the same time as the Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès (amongst others) Guy-Blaché would turn over a staggering amount of films - exceeding 1000 - few of which survived (150 to be exact), and she made groundbreaking achievements that the history books attribute to men. She was the first female to own a major studio (The Solax Company), as well as being the first filmmaker to feature an entirely African American cast of players. Her achievements were insurmountable and informed cinema as we know it, and yet her place in history remains unknown to most.
Narrated by Jodie Foster, featuring notable Hollywood figures such as Catherine Hardwicke, Julie Deply, Diablo Cody, Peter Farrelly, Peter Bogdonovich, Ben Kingsly and Gale Anne Hurd amongst the many, BE NATURAL emphasises the lack of acknowledgement within the industry and attempts to reeducate with an abundance of archival footage, family accounts and investigation. Like a classic Hollywood mystery, the documentary is thrilling, captivating and entirely compelling. Pamela B Green's enthusiasm is ever present, albeit a little self indulgent. She has not unearthed some massive scandal, as the gist of the narrative would have you believe, but rather she has picked up the pieces from where others left off and reassembled them into a coherent modern document... to maximum effect.
The amount of footage, including so many scenes from Guy-Blaché's films, is incredible and Green takes us on a journey towards restoration and preservation. The talking head guests share insight into Guy-Blaché's techniques to highlight how they have informed modern cinema, and the process of tracking down her descendants makes for an entertaining point of intrigue.
BE NATURAL is a must-see for all self-respecting cinephiles and ought to be shown to every film student throughout the world. The history of cinema is full of forgotten legacies and Alice Guy-Blaché's story is possibly the most important of them all, which in turn, makes Pamela B Green's film obligatory by default. See it.