THE PUNK SINGER: A FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA (Sini Anderson, 2013)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771
Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave., 718-384-3980
Opens Friday, November 29
A cofounder of the riot grrrl movement, Kathleen Hanna was an outspoken feminist as she toured the world with Bikini Kill and then Le Tigre starting in 1991. But it all came to a mysterious halt in 2005 when the Portland, Oregon, native suddenly went on what became a long hiatus for undisclosed health reasons. Director Sini Anderson gets to the heart of the matter in the intimate, revealing documentary The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna. Incorporating rousing archival footage and photographs along with new interviews, Anderson, in her feature debut, gets Hanna to open up about her life and career, discussing such influences as Kathy Acker and Gloria Steinem as well as the serious health problem that kept her out of the public eye for five years. Hanna also talks about her childhood, a sexual assault that happened to her best friend, her photography and fashion work in college, her zine writing, and the formation of her bands, along the way always pushing her message. “We didn’t give a shit,” she says about the beginnings of Bikini Kill. “We weren’t making money; we knew we were never going to make money. And it was really important that we made our music. We were on a mission. We were going to do what we did whether we got attention or not.”
Anderson also speaks with such former and current Hanna bandmates as Johanna Fateman, JD Samson, Kathi Wilcox, and Tobi Vail, musical icons Joan Jett and Kim Gordon, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, and Hanna’s husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz; many are interviewed in the back of a snazzy van during a Hanna tribute concert at the Knitting Factory in 2010. Anderson weaves in plenty of music clips that display Hanna’s powerful stage presence, including snippets of such songs as “Rebel Girl,” “White Boy,” “Distinct Complicity,” “Hot Topic,” “Deceptacon,” and “Aerobicide” from Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Julie Ruin. The Punk Singer is a gripping portrait of a fearless, talented woman who continues to do whatever it takes to get her message out. “What is the story of my life?” Hanna says near the end. “I have no fucking idea.” But now, thanks to Anderson, we do, even if that story is still being written. The Punk Singer opens November 29 at the IFC Center and Nitehawk Cinema; Anderson, cinematographer Jennie Jeddry, and editor Bo Mehrad will be at the Nitehawk to participate in Q&As following the 7:30 and 9:55 screenings on Friday night, and Hanna will be at the IFC Center for Q&As moderated by Lizz Winstead after Friday and Saturday’s 7:55 and 9:55 shows. In addition, Hanna will be signing copies of the new album by the Julie Ruin, Run Fast, at 10:00 on Saturday.