The hardships encountered and overcome by director Allison Anders are often reflected in the grittiness and strength of her female characters, a quality that lends her stories a tough but refreshing honesty. Anders cares about her characters, but she refuses to give them falsely happy endings and this refusal distinguishes her from other directors of so-called women's films who make their movies into little more than celluloid Hallmark cards. Anders' approach to this kind of storytelling has given her distinction in the film industry and she continues to make films that challenge conventional attitudes toward both women and films about women.
Born November 16, 1954, in Ashland, KY, Anders had an upbringing that was nothing if not traumatic. At the age of five, she, her mother, and four sisters were abandoned by her father, and were forced into an unstable, itinerant lifestyle. At the age of 12, Anders was raped and then endured abuse from her stepfather, who at one point threatened her with a gun. Anders suffered a mental breakdown when she was 15 years old, after her mother took her daughters to Los Angeles to escape further abuse. Following time in psychiatric wards, later in foster homes and jail, Anders ventured back to Kentucky, then moved to London with the man who would father her daughter.
In her early twenties, after living in London and then on a commune, Anders returned to Los Angeles, where she enrolled at U.C.L.A. after attending junior college and working odd jobs. During her time there, Anders had her second daughter. She graduated from the university's distinguished film school with an industry fellowship, and after a personal correspondence campaign aimed at her favorite director, Wim Wenders, managed to land a job as an assistant on his 1984 film Paris, Texas. Three years later, Anders wrote and directed her first feature, Border Radio, with the assistance of former film school classmates Dean Lent and Kurt Voss. Her solo directorial debut came in 1992, with Gas Food Lodging; starring Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk as adolescent sisters coming of age in a dead-end New Mexico town, the film garnered wide acclaim for Anders, as well as a measure of unexpected financial success.
The following year, Anders made Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life), an unflinching exploration of the girl gangs of Echo Park, the L.A. neighborhood where Anders lived. The film was a moderate critical success, although it failed to make much of an impression at the box office. Unfortunately, Anders' next project was the almost universally reviled Four Rooms (1995). The vignette she provided for the anthology film, about a coven of witches who seduce a bellboy in hopes of harvesting a particular bodily fluid for their ritual, was considered one of the weakest segments of the film. Anders rebounded somewhat in 1996, with her next feature, Grace of My Heart, a fictional biography of a female singer/songwriter during the 1960s that was very loosely based on the life of singer/songwriter Carole King. Starring Illeana Douglas, John Turturro, Matt Dillon, and Eric Stoltz, the film received a number of positive reviews, although it sank at the box office.
Anders then turned to executive producing, with the 1997 film Lover Girls, but in 1999 was back in the director's chair, co-directing Sugar Town, with old Border Radio collaborator Kurt Voss. Set against the backdrop of the California music industry, the film explored the intertwining lives of a group of power-brokers, wannabes, and has-beens, and in doing so allowed Anders to return to the themes of loyalty, disillusionment, sex, and put-upon women that she knew so well.