Kathleen Hanna on The Punk Singer: I thought "This could be my last chance"
|Photo courtesy of Aliya Naumoff|
The lead the singer for the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre left the stage for early retirement in 2005. This was after what would have already been a full career playing punk rock and electronic music, as well as promoting and participating in feminist activism -- much of it through the riot grrrl movement she helped start in the early '90s, (about which two new films are currently in production.)
However, as Sini Anderson's new documentary The Punk Singer explains, Hanna's premature exit from the spotlight was due to a battle with a mysterious and often debilitating illness that was finally diagnosed after several years as advanced-stage Lyme disease. The film screens this week at Trylon Microcinema.
Shot on a micro-budget, The Punk Singer's energy hits hard and fast. Anderson's finely tuned directorial debut tightly weaves together the musical, political, and personal components of the 45-year-old feminist icon's life--one that has impacted a generation of women. It is an unsentimental treatment that is equally moving, funny, and inspiring. Vintage footage of rowdy punk shows and intimate, candid interviews with Hanna and her peers evenly layer the film.
Hanna's past, complete with accomplishments and embarrassment, is concisely contextualized and thoughtfully catalogued by Anderson, (who, coincidentally, was also diagnosed with advanced stage Lyme disease during production and is now shooting a new doc about the disease). Hanna's present is unflinchingly open to the camera. This includes poignant footage of her at home experiencing the severe neurological symptoms of her disease, shot by her husband, Adam Horovitz, of the Beastie Boys.
With her health regained, the release of Run Fast from her new band, the Julie Ruin, and another new project co-writing a show with her husband for Comedy Central starring comedian Bridget Everett, Hanna's future beyond the film looks to be the exact opposite of retirement.
We spoke to Kathleen Hanna and director Sini Anderson about making The Punk Singer.
Why did you make this film now?
Kathleen Hanna: I was very, very sick, I didn't know what I had. I got diagnosed during the filming. Sini came to me and I was kind of taken aback because I wanted her to work on the Le Tigre concert movie and she rejected me. Then she came back a few weeks later and said, 'I want to do a film about you.' And I was like, 'No.' I didn't want to be set apart. Then I thought about it and was like, 'This could be my last chance.'
I'm getting sicker and sicker, but there were still these windows where I was well enough to do interviews. I was like it's now or never. There's so many times in your life where you get an opportunity and you say, 'This is the worst time this could happen because I was planning to do x, y, and z and then you're like...fuck it. I should just do it.' And I knew with her that I could have the trust level to really, really open up and not bullshit and do the 'press lines.' I'm going to be able to talk in a real way.
Sini Anderson: I thought it was a good time because we were just about twenty years out of the beginning of her career and the start of 3rd wave feminism. I have this philosophy that we, feminists, should be documenting our history and sharing them before the end of our careers. The idea is not waiting until somebody is gone.
At the start of the production, it felt like we were in a dry spell of feminist activism and during the production a few things happened--the Pussy Riot thing, the slutwalks in Toronto, the Sandra Fluke incident--that were starting to shake things up a little bit. But right before we had started the production (in July 2010) it just didn't feel like we were hearing any noise. And Kathleen's really great--for making noise.
KH: I sort of as a grown-up knew that it's better to give too much information than not enough. I was a photography major and I remember my teacher, Steve Davis, telling me -- when I would shoot I always shot everything really high contrast because that's what I'm drawn to -- and he was like, 'Look, you can print in high contrast, but shoot to get as many grays as you can. Then you can make that decision later.' I remember thinking that about working with Sini. I know she'll 'print' [this film] in high contrast, but, because of the trust I have in her, I can put as much gray in there as is humanly possible.