Sisters-in-Law Crossing Borders – Suzanne Pathé, Gertrud Grünspan and French-German Film Distribution Before World War I

by Frank Kessler (Utrecht University) and Sabine Lenk (Université libre de Bruxelles; University of Antwerp)

Abstract: Our contribution will be dedicated to Suzanne Pathé from Paris and Gertrud Grünspan from Berlin, whose contribution to the emerging film business is largely forgotten. They were sisters-in-law and worked ‘behind the scenes’ as directors of film distribution agencies, providing French films to German audiences from 1905 onwards. They thus participated in the rapid expansion of film exhibition in Germany between 1906-1907. Suzanne Pathé came to Berlin with her father Théophile Pathé, who opened a distribution agency for Pathé Frères. After a clash with his brothers, Suzanne’s father started his own company. Suzanne led the Berlin office together with Gertrud, who was her secretary and later directed the German office of the French company Lux. We will present their astonishing careers as business women in a male-dominated film industry and analyse the factors that allowed these teenagers to have business careers in a society that often would not accept this for women much older than Suzanne and Gertrud.

Frank Kessler is Professor of Media History at Utrecht University and currently the Director of Utrecht University’s Research Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON). He is a former President of Domitor and a Co-founder and Co-editor of KINtop. Jahrbuch zur Erforschung des frühen Films and the KINtop, Studies in Early Cinema series.

Sabine Lenk is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Universities of Antwerp and Brussels (ULB) in the research project B-Magic. The Magic Lantern and its Cultural Impact as Visual Mass Medium in Belgium (1830-1940). She teaches media history, film restoration and conservation principles. She is a Co-founder and Co-editor of KINtop Schriften and KINtop. Studies in Early Cinema.