Director Sini Anderson talks about The Punk Singer, a film about artist Kathleen Hanna's life
Kathleen Hanna is not a name that may be well known to the mainstream masses -- but as feminist, musician, activist, zine-maker and cofounder of the riot grrrl movement, she's been a key figure in underground culture for decades. Regularly misrepresented -- and often not acknowledged at all -- in punk history, Hanna's continuing legacy is finally given accurate weight and deserved attention in The Punk Singer, a new documentary examining her life through barrier-breaking bands like Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin.
Kathleen Hanna on tour with Le Tigre.
Fellow activist and filmmaker Sini Anderson directs the powerful piece, which walks fans through Hanna's early beginnings as a student at Evergreen State College to her current fight against Lyme Disease. In advance of the film's opening today at the Sie FilmCenter, Westword spoke with Anderson about how she brought Hanna's life to the big screen.
Westword: How did you meet Kathleen Hanna?
Sini Anderson: We shared a mutual friend -- Tammy Rae Carland, who is the owner and operator of Mr. Lady Records. We were both on Mr. Lady Records. We met in about 2000, I think?
What the catalyst for making a film about Kathleen and her work?
Initially, Kathleen came to me because they were ready to get started on the Le Tigre documentary, Who Took the Bomp? and just occurred to me that it would be a good idea for her to tell her story right now. I asked Kathleen if she had considered that, and she said, no, not really. She had been out of music for about five years at that point. I told her, I think it is a really good idea for people to hear your personal story.
She was like, well, that sounds interesting and terrifying, but okay. But she was working on the Le Tigre documentary at that time. A couple of weeks later she called me up and said, I've been thinking about what you said and you're right -- I'll totally tell my story.
Seeing The Punk Singer made me realize how important of a component it was to the Le Tigre documentary that came before it to tell how Kathleen got there in the first place. Along with her bandmates Johanna Fateman and JD Samson, there were so many key people who spoke in this film. Did people just naturally appear as she told her story or did you seek out everyone who participated?
I think it was organic to the story for sure, but I also sought them out. Most of the people who were interviewed in this film were people that have been pretty close to Kathleen throughout her life. That's kind of what I was going for -- I wanted people who intimately knew her or knew of her work or who were largely influenced by her.
Kathleen has a very female story, so it was not surprising that most of those people who spoke were women. I don't think it was until we were finished and other people were looking at the documentary and saying, "There are no men in here? You might want to go and interview some." I was like, oh, that's right. There's not, with the exception of her husband (Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys).
But I was like, I'm not too worried about excluding men. I think I have what I need. (Laughs.) The people who were around her were the people who I interviewed. Ian McKaye and Thurston Moore are awesome and supportive dudes and Kathleen has great relationships with them, but I didn't think they needed to speak on this subject. They absolutely could and she adores them and they know a good amount about her and a great amount about music, but so do Becca Albee and Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, you know?
It was really important for me to have the voices that I felt were really going to explain her work and not just be the quote-unquote "experts."