Riot Grrrl founder Kathleen Hanna never intended to be the subject of a feature-length film. She just wanted a concert documentary.
But Sini Anderson, Hanna’s close friend and the eventual director of The Punk Singer, pushed for more. “I thought it was a really good time for people to know not just about Le Tigre, but about her story,” Anderson told EW of the lead singer of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. “I think that was a terrifying idea for Kathleen.” She eventually came on board and what resulted is an intimate portrait of Hanna at the center of the movement told through 20 years of archival footage and interviews with Hanna and those who are and were closest to her, including Joan Jett and The Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, to whom Hanna has been married since 2006.
Anderson is the first to admit that The Punk Singer, which premiered at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, is not an unbiased look at the Riot Grrrl movement. She wanted to find people who were affected positively by Hanna, her bands, and the messages they conveyed — not those who might have found her annoying, trite, or inconsequential.
While exploring the activism of Riot Grrrl-era feminism, the film also focuses heavily on Hanna’s present and her struggle with Lyme Disease, which proved to be an unexpectedly poignant through-line for the way Hanna approaches art. “She’ll take a taboo subject and push through to the truth,” said Anderson, whether it’s sexual abuse and rape, or a misunderstood and under diagnosed condition. “Ironically enough it’s a political disease,” said Anderson. “Yet again her personal experience will be of service.” Hanna, who has reportedly been in remission, is beginning the first leg of her tour with The Julie Ruin, which kicks off Tuesday in New York.
The poster, premiering exclusively on EW.com, epitomizes Hanna and her place within the punk rock scene of the early 90s. “The early 90s was a time period that was very anti documentation. We were very protective of [keeping] the work from outsiders,” said Anderson, who turned to the NYU Fales Library & Special Collections with her collaborator Lissi Erwin to research the movement. “It’s a really rad collection, and Kathleen had been archiving her work for a couple of years before we started the film,” said Anderson who poured through 25 years of Hanna’s collected works and finally came across the photograph used in the poster. Anderson and Erwin knew they’d hit the jackpot. “It captures Kathleen so well.”
“In the middle of this really loud political punk rock movement, this image just crystallizes her in this really kind of thoughtful, quiet moment. It feels really contrast-y to me. That’s how Kathleen’s work has always felt to me. It’s this really loud, energetic message along with something that’s super quiet,” said Anderson. “It’s the perfect image for the poster for the film.”
The Punk Singer will be released by IFC Films in theaters and VOD on Nov. 29.