Now in its third year, the Lumière Festival’s ongoing Permanent History of Women Filmmakers section isn’t a series of disconnected annual retrospectives — its three editions thus far build a chronological narrative of female innovation behind the camera. In 2012, the festival appropriately began at the beginning, celebrating narrative cinema pioneer Alice Guy; 2013 kept the focus French, as Impressionist filmmaker Germaine Dulac was put under the spotlight.
This year’s Lumiere fest expands the gender conversation beyond its own borders, with Hollywood feminist trailblazer Ida Lupino the subject of 2014’s section.
British-born actor and filmmaker Lupino’s onscreen work alone would earn her a place on the historical honor roll of American studio cinema: Her intelligent, decidedly modern star presence was put to memorably flinty use in such films as Raoul Walsh’s “High Sierra” and Sam Peckinpah’s “Junior Bonner.”
Yet it was as a helmer that Lupino did her most influential work. The first actress to seize creative control of her screen legacy by developing and directing her own independent projects, she subverted a studio system that otherwise stage-managed its stars’ careers at every turn. After a decade with Warner Bros. — one that found her frequently on suspension due to her defiant streak — she took the reins from indisposed director Elmer Clifton on 1949’s “Not Wanted,” an illegitimacy drama that she also co-wrote and co-produced.
Her direction there went un-credited, but that same year, she made her solo helming debut with “Never Fear,” an unsentimental study of a dancer’s cruelly disrupted career. Both “Not Wanted” and “Never Fear” will be screened at the Lumière fest, as well as her landmark 1953 film noir “The Hitch-Hiker,” in which the erstwhile movie femme fatale strikingly revised the gender norms of the genre.
Rounding out the Festival’s selection is another 1953 noir, “The Bigamist” (the first film in which Lupino directed herself as star), as well as two of her most famous vehicles as an actress, Raoul Walsh’s “They Drive By Night” and Jean Negulesco’s “Road House.”
It’s far from a complete retrospective — her seething, still-resonant rape drama “Outrage” is but one omission — but it’s a valuable snapshot of a career that astonishes today, in an industry where female filmmakers are still forcibly on the back foot. Later this year, another singular screen icon, Angelina Jolie, will shoot for directorial kudos with her soph feature “Unbroken”; whatever the outcome, it’s Lupino who paved the way for Jolie and others to take flight.