Not only divas

Not Only Divas: Women Pioneers of Italian Cinema is an international conference taking place in Bologna, Italy, 14-16 December. The event is being promoted by the University of Bologna, the Biblioteca italiana delle Donne, the Associazione Orlando and the Women’s Film History Association. I haven’t been able to find any information about it online except in Italian, so here’s a translation from a flyer:

Until recently, the issue of women’s contribution to the creation and development of the film industry has been largely ignored in historiographical research, producing an image of silent cinema as a territory exclusively dominated by male agency and desire. In the last few years, however, a new line of international research has revealed a surprsing number of traces of women’s creative and professional participation in the silent film industry, showing clearly that the very few feminine names that have been traditionally credited in official film histories are in fact only the visible part of a much larger iceberg. One of the most interesting results of this research is actually to have revealed that in all national cinemas during the silent period the women working in the film industry in non-acting roles were far more numerous than in any other period of film history.

Though peculiar in many aspects, the case of Italian cinema is no exception. Besides Elvira Notari, pioneer of Neapolitan cinema, who has no doubt to be recalled as one of the most productive women directors of all times (second, perhaps, only to Alice Guy) and Francesca Bertini (the widely celebrated Diva, who in her late years repeatedly claimed for herself the maternity of her films), many others are the women who succeeded in entering as professionals the sphere of a mainly masculine industry. We can think as an example of the nowadays forgotten names of directors like Diana Karenne, Gemma Bellincioni, Giulia Cassini, Elettra Raggio; of screenwriters like Renée de Lion or Nelly Carrère; or even of a film distributor like Fanny Kluge.

The Not Only Divas Conference is the first step in a multiannual research project aimed at producing new knowledge on such pioneering figures by means of an articulated series of events, including film retrospectives, film restorations and publications.

More generally, the International Conference intends to stimulate a reflection on the scope of movement that was available in Italian silent cinema, in a particularly conservative socio-cultural context, for all the forms of feminine expression or women’s representation that are impossible simply to reduce to the tradiditional figure of the Diva.

The following thematic and methological issues will be considered :

  • Reconstruction of Italian women film pioneers’ biographies and production
  • Forms of women’s representation in Italian silent cinema
  • The anti-Divas: comic actresses and muscle-women
  • Women’s professional agency in the Italian socio-cultural context of the silent period
  • Italian silent cinema and female audiences
  • Relationships among women across film, theater and literature
  • Comparative analysis of the women’s role in Italian and foreign cinemas
  • The feminist movement in Italy during the silent period
  • The problem of sources: women’s history in the Italian film history

Conference director: Monica Dall’Asta, Università di Bologna

Please write for information to angelita.fiore [at]

Excellent stuff, all part of a major re-investigation of women’s roles in silent cinema which is taking place worldwide at the moment. But I would like to know who it is can say for certain that there were more women working in the film industry in the silent period than at any other time. How has this been determined? If they mean behind-the-scenes roles (office workers, early film processing etc) and not just ‘creative’ roles, perhaps this may be right. But I’d like to see the evidence.

RIP Minoru Inuzuka

The last director to have made a silent film in the 1920s died last month. While Portugal’s Manoel De Oliveira, who made Douro, Faina Fluvial in 1931 is still with us (and still working), Japan’s Minoru Inuzuka directed his first silent feature in 1927, Sunae shibari: Dai-nihen, having previously contributed to the script of Kinugasa’s classic Kurutta ippêji (A Page of Madness) (1926). He was 106 years old.

Where now for the Cinema Museum?

The Cinema Museum, one of London’s hidden cinematic treasures, is under notice to quit from the former Lambeth workhouse building (where Charlie Chaplin’s mother was incarcerated) by March of next year. There’s an article in The Observer with the background story and an affectionate portrait of the museum itself.

Meanwhile, the Cinema Museum has just published its new website, which is delightfully rich in pictures of the collection, its building, and even buildings to which they might move next. There’s also a fascinating video tour of the collection, made in 2000, which can also be found on YouTube.

London thrills me


Blackmail (1929), from

OK, back to normality, and a few short news items on silent matters which have built up over the past few days. To start with, under the title ‘London Thrills Me’, the London Film Festival is hosting two silent film screenings this week in Trafalgar Square. On 18 October you can see the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Blackmail (1929), accompanied by Ivor Montagu’s delightful comic short, Blue Bottles (1928), starring Elsa Lanchester. Neil Brand provides the live piano score. The following day John Sweeney is the pianist in Trafalgar Square for Capital Tales, a selection of 100 years of London on film. The silents being screened are London Street Scenes – Trafalgar Square (1910), Blackfriars Bridge (1896), Petticoat Lane (1903), Old London Street Scenes (1903), Trafalgar Square Riot: Pathé’s Animated Gazette (1913), Hoxton… Saturday, July 3rd, Britannia Theatre (1920) – extract, The Fugitive Futurist: A Q-riosity by “Q” (1924), Cosmopolitan London (1924) – extract, and Piccadilly (1929) – extract. Both screenings begin at 18.30.