Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

Written by: Mara Rockliff

Illustrated by: Simona Ciraolo

For ages: 5-9 years

Language: English, very minor French.

Topics Covered: Historical Figures, Women in Film, Trailblazers, Women Artists.  

Summary: A little girl named Alice loved stories more than anything.  She listened to those around her, and the tales they told her throughout the day.  She read book after book, as many as she could get her hands on.  Terribly, one day, her father’s bookstore got caught in an earthquake, followed by a fire, and then looted by robbers.  Lastly, most terrible of all, her father died.  Alice’s family had no money, so she learned to use a typewriter and set out to find a job to help her family.  When she applied for a job at a camera company, she surprisingly was accepted despite being very young!

One day Alice went with her boss to see a new type of camera, one with a crank that could make the pictures move-they could be played over and over again!  This was a HUGE success, and Alice’s job began selling the cameras.  Alice loved the moving picture cameras, but thought they could be used more creatively than just filming everyday happenings like trains.  What if they could film a story?  Alice began to film short movies, and at first they were just used to demonstrate what the new moving picture camera was capable of.  But eventually, people just wanted to see the films that Alice was creating, they would even offer to pay for them!  Alice began to experiment with playing films backwards, painting the film reel to make it colorful, and experiment with stop-motion animation.  Theatre’s showed her movies, and she was very excited to introduce sound and speaking to these films as well!  She was unstoppable, and moved to America with a young cameraman that she was in love with.

In America, she was confused.  People thought someone named Thomas Edison had invented moving pictures, and Americans had never heard of her!  Americans went to see movies that didn’t even have sounds or color!  Alice got to work, even bringing her baby on movie sets.  She would make very exciting movies with animals, explosives, and rats that rescued leading characters!  Americans began to love her movies.  Until Hollywood took over, and could make fancier movies than Alice.  Even her husband left her for Hollywood, and crowds watching her movies dwindled.  She and her children decided to move back to France, and she wrote a memoir.

This is a hefty book, with many pages.  The words aren’t overwhelming, and the pictures are beautiful.  The story is very detailed, and covers Alice’s life incredibly well.  The “Director’s Cut” in the back of the book provides more historical context about Alice, including that she produced over 700 movies herself, even before her studio went on to produce hundreds more.  She is truly the “Mother of Movies”!

Reflection Questions:

  • Did you know that movies used to not have sound?  Would you like movies as much if they were silent?
  • What is something you really liked about Alice’s story?
  • How would you like to spend your time when you’re grown up, does making movies sound like a fun job?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about different styles of movie-making.  Animation, stop-motion, silent, the world is your oyster!  Try and experiment with a digital camera, or some other recording device.
  • When Alice moved to America, she was surprised no one had heard of her.  Why do you think that is?  Who are some other trailblazer women that you can learn about, whose stories have been erased from the history books?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Mara_Rockliff_020715Mara Rockliff has ridden an elephant, swallowed fried grasshoppers, lived on a commune, flown a hang-glider (and crashed), picked coffee beans and fed them to a monkey, peered into a live volcano, watched her toddler soar around a big top in the arms of a Mexican trapeze artist dressed as Spiderman, swum through a pitch-black cave to a tiny and perfect hidden beach, milked goats, skied in the Alps (and crashed), hiked up a glacier and alarmed a moose, torn down a barn, gone to a “sit-up” (a Jamaican wake), hung out with Cambodian monks, pedaled across the Blue Ridge Mountains in a homemade superhero cape, driven a hundred-year-old car (and DIDN’T crash!), woven lots of hammocks, snaked a drain, gazed upon The Garden of Earthly Delights, and danced till dawn. Mostly, though, she spends a lot of time at the computer. In pajamas.

Prairie in MoroccoSimona Ciraolo is a children’s book author. She grew up in Italy and got a degree in animation at the National Film School. She moved to England shortly afterwards and  worked in advertising and feature films. Simona is currently based in London and just completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration in Cambridge.

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