When Allison Anders' film Gas Food Lodging debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992, she earned her place in what has since been called the Class of '92—an impressive lineup of independent filmmakers that included Alex Rockwell, Neal Jimenez, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. But while Anders' follow-up, Mi Vida Loca, helped to solidify her reputation as talented writer-director with a distinct cinematic voice, the tremendous box-office success that hit Rodriguez and Tarantino never really came for her. Like many other independent filmmakers, she spent more time trying to raise the money to make movies than actually making movies. Instead, like many of the women directors to emerge during the 1980s and '90s, Anders transitioned to television, directing episodes of shows like Sex and the City and The L Word. Anders is in town this week as the guest of honor at the 2008 Portland Women's Film Festival (a.k.a. POW Fest), which will screen both Gas Food Lodging and her first film, Border Radio. (For reviews of the POW Fest movie lineup, see "Ladies' Nights".)
WW: Do you think festivals like POW are a good idea, or do they perform a disservice by singling out women?
Allison Anders: I think women's film festivals are totally fine nowadays because niche film festivals [are] where it's at anyway—it helps get work out there to specific audiences and special interests.... The old mass-marketing models are no longer working—not in the iPod/YouTube generation. Niche is where it's at.
What can women filmmakers do better than men?
I would like to say women are better at multitasking, and I think largely this is true and is certainly a good skill for a director, but luckily everyone is different...maybe there are good male multitaskers.... So, probably the only thing we could do that male directors can't is breastfeed on the set!
You went to UCLA and studied film—real film—but you have embraced digital. What is the difference between celluloid filmmaking and digital?
When I went to film school...I would hear these camera-geek guys talking very technically about cameras and stuff. And I just felt really intimidated. I was like, "Oh my god, I don't know what the hell they're talking about. And I have no interest in knowing what they're talking about, either, so how am I ever going to make movies?" I never got the language of camera, I never really understood it. It was an old-school and very sort of old-white-man language—it wasn't very friendly creatively, it was like a trade. When I started doing digital film I realized that the language was a lot warmer. A lot of different people had come together to influence the language of digital filmmaking as opposed to film. Women and blacks and Mexicans and Indians and everybody was involved in creating cinema in the very beginning, but it somehow had this sort of old-school language, whereas with digital it was like we all got a shot.
You have directed a lot of TV the last several years, how is it different from film?
TV is beautifully lucrative place to be, and the thing that's wonderful about it is that you can continue to work if you continue to deliver—if you're not a pain in the ass and you deliver what they want, you can continue to work. You can even be a pain in the ass—there's lots of directors who are pains in the ass, but as long as they deliver, that's fine. You're next job is not dependent on whether or not your particular episode brings in huge ratings.
Do you think the reason some women directors move to television is because the film industry is sexist?
I don't think that it is misogynistic—I refuse to believe that it is at its core—or racist. I realize that women and minorities have to work a million times harder, that's just the nature of the world. You have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But a lot of my white male friends are not doing well either, for whatever reason.
What female directors' work are you obsessed with?
I love the work of the great Claire Denis. I love the work of "Mother To Us All": Ida Lupino. I love the work of silent director Mrs. Wallace Reid (Dorothy Davenport). And I love the balls of Kathryn Bigelow, the delicate brilliance of Lynn Ramsay, the humor and skill of Tamra Davis and the heart of Nancy Savoca. I love the soul of the work of Sofia Coppola, and I love all I continue to learn from Martha Coolidge, and I love how Susan Seidelman made us all want to direct. I love the artistry of Jane Campion. I love the way Mary Harron beautifully takes my assumptions and turns them inside out. I wish I knew more about the work of the innovative rebellious spirit of Barbara Rubin. I love the bravery of Kim Pierce, and the honesty of Patty Jenkins, and I love all the new young women directors who make me revisit and rethink my old ideas. There's no end to great work by women out there.
What words of wisdom can you offer aspiring filmmakers, especially those wondering if they should just give it all up and get a job at Starbucks?
If you've got to tell a story, and you have a passion for filmmaking, then that's what you gotta do. Any job can suck. That's my feeling about it. You think Starbucks would be so easy? No. You've got customers who hate you, and you've got people who are like, "That's not what I ordered." People who don't tip. And now, everybody's work is up for criticism—not just artists—because you can go to any kind of website and write, "Don't go to that Starbucks, that girl with the red hair is a real bitch."
The Portland Women's Film Festival takes place at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. Thursday-Sunday, May 15-18. Visit powfest.com for a full schedule of screenings, workshops and panels, and wweek.com/screen for reviews of the featured movies. Full festival pass $100, individual films $7. Anders will participate in a Q&A after each screening of her films.