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Seeking Our Story: Personal Filmmaking with Allison Anders’ ‘Gas Food Lodging’

Seeking Our Story: Personal Filmmaking with Allison Anders' 'Gas Food Lodging'

Allison Anders (b. 1954) began life in rural Kentucky. By age four her father abandoned the family and her mother packed up her five daughters to move to Los Angeles. After enduring abuse from a stepfather and suffering a mental breakdown at age 15, Anders’ transitioned to foster care. She ran away and landed in jail for a while before ending up back in Kentucky at age 17. Anders didn’t return to Los Angeles until her mid-twenties, and when she did it was with her daughter, Tiffany, in tow. She enrolled in a junior college, worked some odd jobs, had another daughter named Devon and eventually landed in the film program at UCLA. 

At UCLA, Anders met long-time collaborator Kurt Voss when they both worked as production assistants for their idol, Wim Wenders. They co-directed their first feature, “Boarder Radio” (1987) with cinematographer Dean Lent. During the Criterion Collection re-release, Anders recalled cutting the film at UCLA after hours, with her daughters in sleeping bags on the floor. In 1986 UCLA awarded Anders a B.A. She also received the Nicholl Fellowship and Samuel Goldwyn writing awards that year for “Lost Highway,” a script about her father.

Her second film, “Gas Food Lodging” (1992) put Anders in the middle of the New American Film Movement at Sundance. Anders crafted a coming of age story as beautiful and harsh as the New Mexico desert where the film takes place. Variety called the picture, “an example of a new cinema made by women and expressive of their lives.” Brooke Adams plays Nora, a single mother struggling to support two daughters: Ione Skye as the rebellious Trudi and Fairuza Balk as the impressionable Shade. Adapted from Richard Peck’s novel “Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt,” Anders honed in on the Nora role. She punched up the script to show not only a working mother, but also a woman’s sex life and desire to have fun. In discussion with Alison Nastasi of Flavorwire, Anders said, “To me, it just seemed like part of a woman’s life. But at the time, it was a big deal to put it in a movie.” Janet Maslin’s for The New York Times said, “‘Gas Food Lodging’ is a big film in a small setting, a keenly observed character study of women who don’t know their own strength.”

By the time of “Gas Food Lodging’s” release, Anders had already shot “Mi Vida Loca,” an Echo Park set girl-gang story, which premiered at Cannes in 1993. Next, Anders contributed to “Four Rooms” (1995), a co-collaborative project with her ’92 Sundance classmates. She received the MacArthur Grant in 1995 for “stories of the underrepresented segments of American society.” Her next film, “Grace of My Heart” (1996) featured Illeana Douglas as 1960s era hit singer-songwriter. She reunited with Kurt Voss for “Sugar Town” (1999) followed by “Things Behind the Sun” (2001). One of the early filmmakers to embark on digital video techniques with “Things Behind the Sun,” Anders also chose to release the film on cable, which won Anders the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. In an interview for Indiewire, Anders spoke about the power of digital technologies, “It’s such a tremendous thing for women and for non-white filmmakers. We were shut out pretty early on of a medium we created along with men[…] I always felt like film was somebody else’s and I was just getting to use it for a while.” Her most recent feature, “Strutter” (2012) was funded on Kickstarter as Anders and Voss’ third look at the L.A. rock scene. She also continues to work prolifically in television, and earned an Emmy nomination in 2013 for directing biopic “Ring Of Fire: The June Carter Cash Story.” She currently teaches at UC Santa Barbara.

Friday, March 25, Seeking Our Story screens Allison Anders ‘Gas Food Lodging’ as part of the American Cinematheque’s Rack Focus Initiative. This screening is presented with Etheria Film Night, Alliance of Women Directors, and Women In Media. Join us after the film at Sadie Kitchen + Lounge in Hollywood.

Samantha Shada is a Los Angeles-based producer/director. She programs Seeking Our Story, screening influential films directed by women.

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