When Allison Anders sat down to speak at the July Cinewomen General Meeting, the first question she was asked was "tell us your life story." She started from her birth and told a story that had mythic proportions. She even seemed to have a title for it, "You Cant Get There From Here." Allison had overcome an impoverished upbringing in Kentucky, had been a teenage victim of sexual abuse and rape, was hospitalized in several mental institutions, made several suicide attempts, and came to Los Angeles after her step-father held a gun on her, her sister and mother. She dropped out of high-school and raised two kids on welfare while going to film school. She experienced a depth of suffering and lived through devastating childhood abuse that destroys most people. Perhaps some part of her believed that she could make something of that suffering so that is was not in vein, by finding compassion for the lives of all the characters in her stories and by offering a vision of truth to the world. Allison is an inspiration for all women sincerely pursuing their lifes work, against all odds.
She explains that when she was growing up, she was influenced more by records then by movies, particularly by the songs of Paul McCartney. "When people ask me how I learned to write female characters, it was from Paul McCartney. There was no match for how he wrote and how he continues to write female characters. When I think about his song "Eleanor Rigby," I wonder why a twenty-four year old would be writing about a lonely old woman. Here he was a rock god, going into a womans head. Also that same year, he wrote "For No One," which is really astonishing because he was the guy being dumped and he wrote it from her point of view. Im always impressed by that."
Her interest in Paul McCartney was her first obsession. "I got really into the Paul McCartney is dead rumor. I played the albums backwards and I studied the cover and eventually I started working a ouija board with my sister to see if Paul was dead. When my step-father came back into our lives, I became obsessed with Paul and this became my total drug... Eventually I disappeared into this fantasy world, where I believed that I was having a personal relationship with not just any old ghost, but with a dead Beatle... I totally withdrew, I developed a psychosomatic pregnancy... I was put in a couple of mental hospitals. And when I was asked, "Who is the father of the baby?" I said it was Paul McCartneys, well not the real Paul McCartney, but the Paul McCartney that is dead. This worked in the logic of my world." Years later, this obsession became the subject of her screenplay, "Paul is Dead," which almost got made when Hugh Grant was attached to play McCartney.
Allisons childhood and teenage experiences found there way into all areas of her filmmaking. Her second obsession was with Wim Wenders, whom she wrote long letters to while at film school. One of Allisons jobs, while studying under Wim Wenders on "Paris Texas," was to run lines with Harry Dean Stanton. Allison told him about her catatonic state at fifteen and showed him some poems she had written as a teenager, describing this state. Pieces of her childhood became a part of her first feature film, "Gas, Food, Lodging." Her identification with the gang girls raising children as single parents became the inspiration for "Mi Vida Loca." Her life long passion for music is evident in her most recent feature "Grace of my Heart." Her newest project will be a film about rape. She has been doing research for it by going back to the home where she was raped as a teenager and is currently writing the screenplay. She wants this project to be completely under her control, without the influence of financiers, mentors, or co-writers.
"I feel very blessed to do this job. There are women directors who get to make lots of movies, like Nora Ephron, but if youre working with personal vision, theres only a few women that get to do that. Jane Campion, Katherine Bigelow, Mira Nair... Its scary, because there arent that many.... The business is still dominated by that same bunch, and the attitudes are the same. It doesnt matter if its a woman executive, she might be a patriarch in a dress, but she is not going to necessarily, be your ally. Youve really got to find someone who is not a patriarch, and that means whether its a male or female. A lot of times women are not going to be interested in women centered material. When I first started making films, it was men who were writing me letters. I wasnt getting mail from the power chicks. So its still pretty tough, I dont want to give a dismal view, because like I said, Im forever grateful for this job."