Walt Disney is probably one of the most well known names in the world, famed for his pioneering film making and for bringing animation to the big screen. So it may surprise you to know that more than a decade before Disney decided to make full length animated features, a woman was already doing just that.
Lotte Reiniger began her career in Germany in the 1920s, having grown up loving puppetry and the special effects of films by the likes of Georges Méliès. She specialised in silhouette animation based on shadow puppet traditions from the Far East, cutting out her characters and scenery from black paper.
She is credited with creating - largely on her own - the first entirely animated feature that still exists (a few films from the 1910s have been lost), eleven years before Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Reiniger's full length creation was also a fairytale, but one taken from the Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Prince Ahmed.
Lotte and her creative partner and husband Carl Koch left Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and didn't return until 1944. In her career she made over 40 films - you can see her still working away with incredible speed and dexterity at the age of 72 in this documentary:
I first discovered Reiniger's work when I went to the Birds Eye View Festival Sound and Silents event, back in 2011. (I'm thrilled that the festival is back on this year, from 8 to 13 April. It champions women working in film, both on screen and behind the camera.)
At the event, musician Micachu, another excellent woman, created a new score for Reiniger's Hansel and Gretel and performed it live. The stuttering, staccato sounds she used had been made entirely from cassette tapes, and it suited the films' jumpy characters perfectly. You should definitely check out Michachu's work - she's just created the soundtrack to Scarlet Johansson's new film Under the Skin.
It's crazy to think that we still live in an age where women struggle for recognition in the film industry. Organisations like Birds Eye View really do a wonderful job highlighting women from the past who may have been forgotten, as well as the rising stars of today.
If you want to see more of her work the BFI sell a great DVD, and if you check out Silent London, run by the wonderful silent film afficionado Pamela Hutchinson, you can see any forthcoming screenings of her films, which are often accompanied by live soundtracks. Pamela also lists silent film festivals and events outside of London.