Boundless: Kate Campbell’s exciting film recognizing the contributions of the courageous women pilots during World War II.
By Rose Marie Bresolin
After listening to Dini Petty speak with passion about the aviation film Boundless and Kate Campbell who directed it, I asked if she could arrange an interview. I knew there was a story in it for our Spencer readers and was excited when the answer came back as yes.
Rose Marie Bresolin: So, Kate, thank you for agreeing to the interview. And Dini, welcome back. Dini, as a woman who was born near the end of WWII with planes thundering overhead as they bombed London, your reaction to such a fearsome experience could have taken you either way; either you’d be drawn to flying or cringe at the thought of airplanes. Thankfully for us, it went in favor of your choosing to fly.
Dini, I’d like to put a few questions to Kate first about Boundless and then have you take us into your experience of the filming.
Kate, Boundless is described as a historical fiction, a narrative that was inspired by your grandmother, Betty Grepley. And while a pilot, she herself was not in the war. She’s deceased now, but her impact lives on in you, and now through this film, she stands to impact much more widely. That must bring you a great degree of satisfaction. Tell us a little bit about this special someone you refer to as your best friend.
Kate: It does bring me satisfaction. It’s been a fairly long journey and obviously my grandmother was an incredible woman who still inspires me. This project is a love letter to her and what she represented to me. I don’t know where I would be without her. I grew up hearing her stories about flying and watching her interact with male pilots as they compared notes and it was in one of her stories that I first heard about Dini. My grandmother got her license in the 50’s and Dini got hers in the late 60’s and they both flew out of Buttonville airport in Ontario, Canada.
Rose Marie: Such a vivid image, thank you. Given that much of the information you were seeking was buried for so long, what level of cooperation did you receive in the developing stages of the film?
Kate: A lot of help actually. I began with the First Canadian Chapter of the Ninety-Nines in Toronto, Canada where my grandmother was a member. The more research I did, the more women pilots I found and then I discovered the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASP and I was astounded that no one knew their story. Then I moved to Los Angeles and eventually began interviewing women pilots in California, Seattle and Texas. I discovered that the Women Airforce Service Pilots held an annual homecoming every year on Memorial Day weekend in Sweetwater, Texas where they originally trained. I started going every year, filming the surviving women and some of the planes they flew. Originally, I wanted someone else to write the story and I approached the only three writers I knew. They were all men and fortunately they all said no.
So, with lots of encouragement from mentors and friends, I started writing the story myself.
I had moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing my acting career. I had some success but along the way I learned just how messy and painful the struggle is and how strong you have to be to follow your dreams. Soon after I landed in LA I began singing again and launched a career with that, so by the time I started writing Boundless, I had the tenacity and the courage to do it. This is where historical fiction comes in, because when you spend so many years researching the facts and hearing the stories, it provides a rich tapestry to write from. Then I further developed it over the years with an incredible collective of artists to flesh the story out.
Rose Marie: While you were in the various stages, did you ever think about abandoning the project?
Kate: Many times, but I knew that I wouldn’t, which was terribly frustrating. I learned what it meant to be a woman not only in that time but also today, as women still face many of the same issues. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Rose Marie: Yes, and I think it’s worth underscoring, that you allowed yourself to think about quitting and then you carried on. Because – there you are. How did you drum up funds, and I realize now that this was another new experience for you, just as the filming was. So, take us into that.
Kate: Yes it was. I decided I wanted to shoot a short film version of Boundless because I was tired of waiting for someone to do something about it. So, I organized a fundraising concert in my hometown of Haliburton, Ontario, Canada. I also received some grant money from the Haliburton County Development Corporation. There have been other community and private donations as well.
We tried an online campaign with Indiegogo, but it didn’t do well, mainly because I didn’t have the team in place before we launched. But thankfully, a fantastic team did come together. We are still fundraising and seeking sponsorships.
Rose Marie: One of the things the movie brings out is what happened when the war ended, and the men came home. Talk to us about this and some of the other findings in the process of researching and interviewing female pilots across North America for the film.
Kate: The women who had been ferrying the military aircraft were disbanded before the war actually ended. As we started to win the war the men returned from overseas and there was no place for the women to continue. Society as a whole, was not supportive of the women continuing on the path of piloting military aircraft or any career in aviation.
Rose Marie: Might women in general have felt justified in becoming part of that block in a belief that they were protecting their husband’s jobs?
Kate: Well, that too, but there’s a deeper issue, one that still exists today. Society was not prepared for these powerful women or their contribution. There’s programmed patriarchy in all of us. It’s been ingrained. So how does a society shift consciousness? Men are not to blame. Now especially, women hold a lot of responsibility for this change. It takes a lot of work, the facing of oneself, and it takes guts to change anything.
I’ve been surrounded by a lot of powerful women and, for better or worse, it gave me what I needed to step into myself. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to younger generations. You never know who you’re affecting.
Rose Marie: There’s transparency and honesty in what you’re doing. I imagine you’re also looking to dig deep to see if there is a general will to make the change? It’ll take a lot of energy from like-minded people to cause a societal shift from a position long fixed. It’s always promising to hear of people willing to play a part in it. Hopefully the positive light shed by the film will help to allay some fears; maybe help grease a rusty wheel… Tell us where and when the filming began?
Kate: We shot in September, 2019.
Rose Marie: Wow, so fresh, I thought it had been earlier.
Kate: We actually pushed the date back twice. We shot mainly in Guelph, Canada because it was rural and reminiscent of Avenger Field in Sweetwater Texas, where the women trained, and we could still land the planes that we were working with. We ended the shoot at the Niagara Military Museum in Niagara Falls, Canada. On one of the days, we had 60 extras to travel to Guelph, in a no-budget situation plus 35 to 40 crew members too, so feeding all those people was challenging. Kirtida Kitchen, a great Indian restaurant in Guelph, had their food truck come out to feed us all our hot lunch that day. It was wonderful.
Rose Marie: My mind just keeps saying wow. Now tell us about the little girl who could.
Kate: Yes, my production manager and I were working online in a program called Zoom where our cast and background actors could just video call into our space to confirm and show us their wardrobe. So, while I was under the gun working with my production manager in my apartment, (that looked liked a bomb went off!), we forgot that the computer screen was even on, and this young woman popped up. “Oh!” I responded after being taken aback. And the girl went on to say that she was calling from Winnipeg and wanted to tell us that she was coming out for the shoot. I was so excited. I mean, she flew herself out for one day and was so proud to be a part of it. It was stuff like that; people came out of the woodwork to offer help. We were given all of the camera equipment from SIM, a really incredible camera rental house in Toronto, Canada. A lot of production support came from Buck Productions and two post-production companies have come on board, Clark Stanley and Rolling Pictures.
Rose Marie: And yet again, wow! Lots of good souls out there. And Oshkosh?
Kate: Oh, yes. That was for the teaser that I shot in in 2018; some of it was filmed in Los Angeles, some of it in Ontario, Canada and some was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin which is the largest aviation convention in the world. It goes on for miles in every direction. You could attend the entire convention and not see all of it. It’s like Disneyland for aviation geeks.
Rose Marie: I see how that could be exciting.
Dini, at this point intrigued with the direction the interview is taking, interjects.
Dini Petty: There was something I’ve been meaning to ask you Kate. When did you first hear the story of WASP? Who first led you there?
Kate: It was in the early stages; the more research I did the more women pilots I found. I was floored by their stories. I then began to realize how long it was going to take and how much work it would require. I was overwhelmed.
Rose Marie: It does sound overwhelming.
Dini: One of the things that impresses me about the film and unless you’re a pilot, you might not appreciate it, is that these women were only required to have 35 hours of flying time to become a WASP! 35 hours is so little time! Today you need 40 hours for a private license and a hundred for your commercial license for one type of aircraft. These women were flying several different kinds of planes. That’s extraordinary!
Rose Marie: Gotta take a breath here, because while the excitement must have been high, I’m also imagining the fear. Thanks Dini. Okay, Kate! What do you want the film to do?
Kate: I want the film to be a calling card for the miniseries which we already have in writing development, and the film will also tour the film festival circuit. It will be finished at the end of February, 2020. I also hope that it will speak to younger generations of women and girls; to share that this is something that is possible. Only 6% of all pilots globally are women. Not a large percentage.
Dini: What film festivals will you be entering it in?
Kate: I’d love to try for Cannes, and then hoping it will go to the Palm Springs Short Festival and TIFF, among others.
Dini: What about Sundance?
Kate: I love Sundance, but it happens in January every year, so for us that would be January 2021. We’ll see.
Rose Marie: It can still happen. What markers will you be looking for to tell you if the film has achieved your goals? How will you know if your digging went deep enough?
Kate: I think if it moves people. And if it can attract more support and financing, as we move into miniseries territory. And when it gets its due recognition for what it is.
Rose Marie: What about education, how do you see that playing out as one of your supports?
Kate: I’d love to share it with schools. I have shared it with my hometown school. They’ll be the first people to be impacted, having seen the process, not just the story. It’s important, not just for girls to see women represented and acknowledged, but for the boys as well.
Rose Marie: For sure, I can see the impact having value for both genders, and in both the elementary and secondary panels; to see girls written into a history they had a part in making. How good is that? It takes me back to a school I ran, when for a Career Day we were fortunate to have a female pilot speak. After presenting in the large forum, she agreed to sit in the reading pit and engage our Junior and Senior Kindergartens. I remember the saucer-wide eyes being glued to hers. The laughter and joy drawn from the children the moment she placed her hat on one of the little girls is captured in a memory that I hold dear. I never thought about doing some research into the impact that may have had on those little girls and boys in pointing them to aviation. There are a few more female pilots now than in the late 90’s so maybe it’s worth looking into. And of course, Kate, the importance of what you’re doing ties in nicely with the mandate of the Spencer publication. As a family lifestyle magazine, it’s well positioned to become a supportive avenue for promoting the film. Another positive way to help expand awareness.
Kate: Absolutely. And it’s also working with organizations like the Ninety-Nines, the organization of women pilots founded by Emilia Earhart in 1929 that my grandmother was a member of and of which I’m a student member. I also had a booth at an event called Girls Take Flight, in April at the Oshawa Airport in Ontario, Canada where they welcome young women and girls to learn more about the world of aviation and they get to go up in a plane. So, there are more and more outlets for getting the information out there.
Dini: Did you know that Emilia Earhart wanted to start an association for women pilots? She sent out hundreds of invitations and 99 women showed up and the Ninety-nines were born.
Rose Marie: This is amazing. So, Dini, I believe this was your first role in a movie?
Dini: No, I’ve been in several, but most often cast in the role of an interviewer. I would like to do more.
Rose Marie: How did it make you feel to be a part of a mechanism focused on delivering an incredibly powerful message?
Dini: Terrific. As Kate and I were becoming friends she told me about her grandmother who also flew out of Buttonville Airport but when I realized Betty Grepley and I knew each other, I was amazed! So when Kate asked me to do the part, my first thought was “the circle is complete.” I’m thrilled to be part of Kate’s dream honoring women in aviation. But I hadn’t acted in a long time so I was apprehensive and I think Kate was a little nervous, maybe?
Kate: I wasn’t nervous about you doing it, Dini. I just didn’t want you to feel you had to pitch or sell anything because it was such a private moment. I wanted you to be comfortable enough to be vulnerable, and you were just so lovely. After the first take, I turned around and 35, 40 crew members were teary eyed. It was just beautiful.
Rose Marie: Kate, my experience is that the moment you’ve done something that has a serious impact, it automatically becomes the seed for something else, something more. What do you see next?
Kate: I think the seed of it is to do it on a larger scale and to not stop. To keep telling more stories, more women’s stories. It’s a great time to look at our current reality. And there are so many fantastic women’s stories now being told. It’s empowering. There is something transformational about narrative work. It changes lives. I saw “A League of Their Own” when I was growing up, and it launched my whole high school athletic career. I was a national athlete back then and I learned a great deal about myself because of that film. The hope is that younger women see themselves in these stories because that’s what my grandmother was for me too. I could see myself in her because she had done it.
There’s so much pressure, even more so on women and girls today, to look and be and act in a certain way especially with social media. The pressure on the psyche from the technological age that we are in can be crippling. Information overload and everyone feeling that they have to have a picture-perfect life lacks human connection. I think that narrative stories are so powerful because if they’re done well, they speak directly to our humanity and bypass the superficiality. They have the power to change lives.
Rose Marie: Seems I’ve said it too many times, and not enough, and I see the same message on Dini’s face as well. We’re simply amazed. Thank you, Kate, and our thanks to the late Betty.
Dini, in the article about you in Spencer Magazine (click here for Dini’s article), I shared with the readers that you were writing your memoirs and I promised I would get back to them. So, tell us, where are you in the writing?
Dini: I’m probably about three quarters of the way. January 15th, 2020 will be my 75th birthday and I promised myself I’d have them done in that year. I had two women read them for me and pick their favorites. I have an agent who’s going to read the chapters, and then I’ll have it published. I’ll be so glad when that’s done. I believe that in every culture including this one, women are valued for three things: first their looks and their youth, and then their looks and their youth, and then…
We repeated it in chorus and laughed at the mutual understanding.
The only problem with that is women believe it. And if you believe your value is based on your looks you’re screwed.
Rose Marie: You’re dead. You also stand to hate other women.
Dini: That’s why women have this problem. We’re set up to compete with each other naturally.
Rose Marie: We can’t even see that narrative; the one that says, guess what, it’s because you bought into it that it continues. And you give your power up.
Kate: There’s also a whole underground culture that doesn’t want you to feel good about yourself. Billions and trillions of dollars are made, especially off of women feeling insecure about themselves. A yoga teacher of mine in Los Angeles, Guru Jagat, asked ‘what would it be like if every woman in the world woke up one morning and genuinely liked themselves,’ and someone responded, ‘Armageddon.’ It’s true. How many companies would go out of business tomorrow if women truly loved and accepted themselves exactly as they are?
Dini: The concept of beauty has widened from the narrow Doris Day image of my youth, but it’s still just another concept we buy into.
Rose Marie: Because it’s not coming from the inside. It’s about what the outside wants me to look like; so even with the widening of the concept, we’re still looking out to see what that is and try to copy it. Then judge ourselves accordingly.
Dini: Back to why it’s so hard for women to support each other. We’ve been raised to compete, and the conditioning has come down the generations.
Rose Marie: I certainly see Boundless as a step with great potential to turn an inward eye on this, at least get us thinking about it. And as I said earlier, Spencer can help you to get the word out.
We all agreed on that and as I write this, I imagine our readers may be thinking, but guys are set to compete too. To which I respond, yes, it’s the way of the market. That’s where Dini’s statement that women have been raised to compete naturally comes in; it highlights that we’re talking about the value placed on women’s appearance. I see a whole other discussion about what it would take to actually see that, and collectively use our ingenuity to cushion the negative impact on the market in a societal value shift. It would take immense planning for that kind of transition. And we, as mothers, fathers, siblings and friends would have to think of it as being important enough. Now there’s another narrative, an ongoing one to be sure. A narrative that we can walk together, along a continued path for change.
To read more about Kate Campbell and her film Boundless, visit her site at katecampbellfilmmaker.com
Dini Petty continues to accept public speaking engagements; to request a booking she can be reached at dinipetty.com
Photo Credits: Sarah Thomas Moffat, Jonathan Levy