By Jenn Watt
Published January 16 2018
Kate Campbell learned to fly over the waters of the Pacific Ocean swooping above Malibu and Santa Monica as she put in hours toward her pilot’s licence.
“Talk about an amazing place to learn to fly” said Campbell who is in the process of getting her licence. “When it’s windy you feel everything. It’s just a rush.”
Campbell originally from Haliburton has plenty of reasons to enjoy flying above it all. Aside from simply enjoying the experience it also brings her closer to her grandmother and to the women who occupy her thoughts much of the time.
Known in her hometown as an actor and singer she’s also a writer and producer who has partnered with Buck Productions in Toronto to create a series about women pilots during the Second World War.
Called Boundless the historical fiction will consist of eight one-hour episodes following the lives of Campbell’s complicated characters.
One of those characters is named for her grandmother Betty Ward who was a pilot though not during the war.
“There are pieces of her there are pieces of me [in the character]” said Campbell.
“She was a member of the 99s [an international organization of women pilots] in Canada in the ’60s.”
Betty Ward took flying lessons at Buttonville airport without her husband suspecting.
“She didn’t tell anyone until she presented her wings to him at the breakfast table one morning and he spewed his coffee across the room” Campbell laughed. “She was definitely my inspiration.”
Ward died in 2003 and Campbell said this project brings her grandmother’s spirit closer.
“I want to work on something that makes me feel her makes me feel like her” she said.
Though Ward was not a pilot during the war many women were – yet there is little mention of them in history books or in popular culture. Their entry into the air force was brief – from 1942 to 1944 – where they filled aviation roles previously occupied by men which allowed the men to enter combat.
“They were flying B-17 bombers B-25 bombers. Some of them were tow-targets … men would be shooting live ammunition at what they were towing behind their aircraft” she said.
Campbell has been researching this topic for a decade. She’s interviewed women pilots from the era and has been working on her screenplay with a mixture of love excitement and frustration.
“It’s been a lot of years and a lot of ups and downs and a lot of putting it away and bringing it out” she said.
Using real historical figures and events to guide the plot Boundless depicts women creating space for themselves within “an elite all-female pilot training program.”
“Through controversy jealousy heartbreak and love this band of women from all walks of life find their way into this new world and through their love of flying they find their liberation and ultimately end up changing the course of history” the synopsis reads.
Campbell said writing this script was a way for her to create the roles she wants to see in the film and television industry.
“I first started dreaming about it 10 years ago before I moved to Los Angeles” she said. “I had no idea where to start. I reached out to members of the 99s the women’s pilot organization started by Amelia Earhart in 1929 … They took me up in a plane and taught me [what] my grandmother … would have had instrumentally to fly on back then.”
As she began researching women in flight she realized there was far more to the history than she’d ever known.
“The more research I did the more I found. I was in awe that nobody knew a lot of the history.”
Women pilots had to push their way into the military despite the obvious assistance they could provide. In the U.S. two key figures emerged in women’s advancement in the field: Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love. The two pilots lobbied over the years to join the effort. In 1942 the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was founded in the U.S. headed by Love. A second program the Women’s Flying Training Detachment was commanded by Cochrane who is a character in Campbell’s creation.
“Back then in the ’40s was kind of a weird time because it was the war and everything was sort of … more accepted. There were over 1000 women who flew every type of aircraft manufactured in North America from 1942 to 1944. … It’s just this part of history that we don’t know about. It’s not in any of the history books I studied from” she said.
Women’s time in the air force was brief she explained.
“The men were coming back wanting their jobs back. So the women were literally disbanded before the war was finished. … They weren’t acknowledged as part of the military officially. They didn’t get any benefits. If they died they had to pay for their own funeral. Then they weren’t allowed to fly military aircraft again until years and years later.”
That kind of overt sexist policy is long gone but the same issues still exist though somewhat muted.
In North America today about six per cent of all pilots are women and just more than 28 per cent work in other aviation jobs.
Within the film industry women’s stories told from an honest perspective have often been tamped down Campbell said.
“When a woman writes about female empowerment or sexuality or rage … it’s like you can’t tell the truth about that” she said. “If a male does it well that’s acceptable because it’s not really the truth about it. It’s really disturbing to a lot of people” she said.
In recent years – intensifying in the last few months – women’s stories have been breaking through that barrier. From hit TV shows such as Big Little Lies and Orange is the New Black to movies like Hidden Figures and Wonder Woman audiences and critics have united to support the telling of women’s stories.
Which makes Boundless seem perfectly timed for the current cultural shift.
“There’s a market for this right now” Campbell said.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Buck Productions on this. They’re such champions of me and my work.”
Besides pushing forward with Boundless Campbell is also acting and singing. Most recently she played a heroin addict mother in the film Badsville about greaser gangs in L.A. set to screen in Toronto at the end of this month.
Her band The Martini Kings is also releasing its first full-length vocal album Smile this spring.
Campbell the daughter of Lorne and Lynda Campbell of Haliburton divides her time between Canada and the U.S.
Buck Productions says Boundless is scheduled to begin production this summer.
(You can keep up with Campbell and her various projects at www.katecampbellactress.com . She’s also on Facebook Instagram and Twitter at SHE Lifts Off Films.)