Anwar Brett meets a rare film director who downplays the violence of her characters' lives
Although her films have won critical acclaim on the festival circuit, Allison Anders is not instantly recognisable as a film director. From Singin' in the Rain to The Player, Hollywood has portrayed directors as aloof and lonely figures prepared to sell out whatever vision they might have at the first sign of a dollar.

Allison Anders is different. A writer-director riding the same new wave as her more illustrious colleagues Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater, her films generally centre on human relationships inspired by her own rich experience.

Born in Kentucky in 1955, Anders escaped an abusive parental relationship to hitch-hike across America, scratching a living in low-paying jobs and "experiencing life" in the best hippie tradition.

At the age of 18 she came to England, where she worked as a barmaid in the pub that became the base for Stiff Records, absorbing the diversity of London culture and picking up a daughter along the way. Determined to put her experiences to use, she decided to make films, and, after enrolling at UCLA film school, came to the notice of Wim Wenders, for whom she worked as an assistant on Paris Texas (1984).

Anders co-wrote and co-directed her first film, Border Radio, with a couple of fellow students while still at UCLA, and made her debut proper with Gas Food Lodging (1992) - the tale of a mother and her two daughters living hand-to-mouth in a middle-American trailer park.

In contrast, her follow-up feature, My Crazy Life - or Mi Vida Loca as it was called on its American release - marks a departure from the personal experiences that have informed her previous work, as it follows the lives of female gang members in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. At least, it seemed to Anders at the time that the film had no autobiographical content. On reflection, she discovered this was not the case.

"I realised that I had a little personal story of an unrequited romance in there," she says. "And I end up killing the guy at the end of the movie - I have the bullet still." She laughs a hearty laugh that encourages you to join in. "You'd think it was a healthy thing using aspects of your own life in your work, but I'm not really sure what problems I resolve by doing that."

Anders had watched the all-girl Chicana gangs of the Echo Park district near her home, then wrote three distinct stories about some of the characters she saw and interwove them into a feature-length tale. She then brought the characterisations into focus through extensive conversations with the girls, some of whom appear in the film.

"I had the stories pretty much worked out before I actually met the gang kids," Anders explains. "Then I started incorporating stuff from our interviews, worked on the script with them and corrected it. They taught me their lingo and stuff like that."

Anders disappointed some of her new friends by down-playing the violence of their lives, choosing instead to emphasise the different morality and priorities that the girl gang members placed on life. Sadly, the violence could not be denied.

"I always had the sense that at least one of the gang kids was going to die before the movie came out," she recalls. "It ended up being one of the girls, not from gunfire but from a drug overdose. The film is dedicated to this girl, Nica, who left behind a son - Reuben, who I'm now in the process of adopting."

Anders's next film, Grace of my Heart - "a good melodramatic title" - will be produced by a Hollywood studio under the watchful eye of Martin Scorsese. At the age of 40, with a successful career and daughters aged 20 and 17, she is having to adjust once again to life as the mother of a young child.

"I've got male energy in my life again," she smiles, "a child in my home again, and although there are male friends of mine who are sort of constant figures for him, I've realised how much he needs a father."

And as to her career, she shrugs happily, calmly accepting the steps up the Hollywood ladder. "Grace is a change of pace for me, but I've still got personal stuff in there too, unfortunately. I guess it's my unrequited romances fuelling me on."

`My Crazy Life' is released next week