The strange combination of Phil Spector's murder trial, the collapse of a television deal, and a brief career as a teenaged kick-boxing B-movie actress all contributed to Vancouver director Katrin Bowen's first feature film, Amazon Falls.
At the age of 17, straight from the Mennonite community of Linden, Alberta, Bowen decided to move to Hollywood and become a movie star. While she was enrolled in drama school, Bowen saw a notice asking for tall actresses who could kick-box and, because she had the height, she went for an audition.
For about a year, she acted in films for the sub-schlock-comedy company, Troma Films, on such films as Battling Amazons and B-Movie Zombie Squad. One of her mentors was an older B-movie actress, Lana Clarkson, star of Roger Corman's historical exploitation flick, Barbarian Queen, and other B-movies.
Bowen's Troma work got her a trip to the Cannes film festival as a volunteer and, while in the south of France, she visited an archeology museum in Antibes. She decided to give up her B-movie career and go back to university and get a degree in anthropology.
For her graduating thesis project, she made a documentary about rap music. Eventually, she made her way back to Canada, using her B-movie fighting and shooting skills to do stunt-double work while developing her skills as a television and independent film director.
Then, in 2003 she was horrified to learn that her old friend Clarkson had been shot dead by producer Phil Spector, who had picked her up at the House of Blues, where she was working to make ends meet. In April of last year, after two trials, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder.
Around that same time, Bowen was hoping to begin her first feature, Love Bites, for which she won a $100,000 grant in services, through a foundation called Women in the Director's Chair. Then the broadcaster to which the project was tied went into bankruptcy and her film had to be put on hold. Bowen asked the foundation board if she could use the grant for another film, and they agreed.
She decided to make a film about her B-movie acting career, dedicated to Clarkson. She started working, quickly, on Amazon Falls, written in two weeks by one of her former Vancouver Film School students, Curry Hitchborn, at the same time as it was being cast. The entire film was shot for about $50,000 in 12 days.
In an interesting twist, it's a movie set in Los Angeles that was mostly shot in Vancouver with Canadian actors, including William B. Davis, Bret Ratner, Gary Chalk and Gabrielle Rose. In the lead role, as a B-movie actress past 40, but still waiting for her big break, she cast a former Miss Canada (1994), April Telek (pictured above, left), who has done a variety of TV work and a few films.
"April gives a fantastic performance," says Bowen. "The only way I can describe it is she really shows her underbelly - without wig, Spanks or anything."
David Lynch's 2001 film, Mulholland Drive, is a twisting neo-noir that stars Naomi Watts as a young woman who comes from small-town Canada (Deep River, Ontario) and becomes involved in a nightmarish world in the shadows of the Hollwyood lights. Did it ring a bell?
"I think that film comes as close as you can to capturing the monster that's Hollywood," says Bowen. "It's always as if you're surfing but the sun is going down and the sharks are beginning to bite but you still don't want to get out of the water."