Spinning Platters Interview: Director Sini Anderson of “The Punk Singer”

by Dakin Hardwick on December 5, 2013


The Punk Singer is a documentary about the life of Kathleen Hanna, the feminist icon best known for being the frontperson for two of the most innovative bands of the last twenty years: Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Spinning Platters had the honor of getting to sit down and talk with the director of this film, Sini Anderson. The film covers nearly all of Hanna’s life, and is a fantastic document. The movie opens Friday, December 6th at The Roxie in SF!

With two years, we had both a Le Tigre documentary (Who Took The Bomp?) and a Kathleen Hanna documentary. What prompted you to do the Kathleen Hanna film so soon after the Le Tigre film?

They are really different films. The Le Tigre film is really about the band and their life on the road,  Johanna (Fateman) & Kathleen’s dynamic, and there’s a lot of humor and lightness to it. It was a concert documentary, and that was great for die hard Le Tigre fans. What I was looking to get from this one was Hanna’s personal story. Something that’s a bit more quiet. Something where we can learn something about her. And so they feel like such different projects to me.

Where did you find such high quality performance footage of Bikini Kill?

It came from all over the place. The more beautiful Bikini Kill footage was shot by a filmmaker from the UK named Lucy Thane. She used to live in San Francisco, we became buds and I got her to transfer her footage and get it to us. It was gorgeous!

It amazed me seeing it. I have a list of bands that I’d like to see before I die and Bikini Kill is on the top of the list. It doesn’t seem likely to happen, but the footage in this film got me as close as I will ever get.

You can find more of that footage on Lucy Thane’s Vimeo.

In terms of who you interviewed for the film, I found it interesting that (Bikini Kill Guitarist) Billy Karren wasn’t part of it. Could you not get ahold of him?

We couldn’t to track him down. We were hoping to interview him, and it just wasn’t happening. We kept missing him. In the end, it’s really OK, because I wanted to focus on Kathleen.

How did you end up being the filmmaker to put this together? It seems like she’s surrounded by filmmakers all the time. What is it that inspired this project? Did you reach out to her, or did she reach out to you?

We came to it together. I felt that it was time to tell her story. She had been out of the music scene for 5 or 6 years, so a lot of younger people weren’t getting exposed to her work. It also was coming up on the twenty year mark of when she started, and things tend to move in twenty year cycles. I also thought it was a great time for feminist politics. As far why I’m the one who made it… I think it was, for Kathleen, more about the friendship than the filmmaking. She felt comfortable and trusted me.

Was Hanna diagnosed with lyme disease before this project started?

It happened right in the middle of it. We saw that she was getting sick, but nobody knew what was wrong with her. She kept seeing doctors and getting misdiagnosed. She actually got much sicker after we wrapped filming. It was getting really intense, and now she’s in a upswing again.

I noticed in her Pussy Riot vlog that she looked really bad. I recall being actually worried about her.

You know what I thought about that? “Right the fuck on!” It’s amazing that she cares so much about feminism that she was willing to make that statement when she looked and sounded like shit and put herself out there because she is totally enraged about what’s happening to these three ladies. It was super vulnerable and super powerful.

Now that your done with this, what’s next?

Making a documentary about lyme disease with a feminist bent. This disease is about to explode. There are a lot of people getting incredibly sick, and it’s not being taken seriously. It’s one of the most political diseases in the country, and it’s gotten much more complicated. Ticks aren’t dying off in the winter now, and they are picking up more co-infections and those have neurologic system effects. They are much more coplex than they were 20 years ago. Insurance companies don’t want to believe late stage lyme diseases exists because the treatment is very expensive. They call it “experimental treatment” so they don’t have to cover it, and people simply can’t get well.

It amazes me how much trouble she had to go through in the movie, being a woman of means and being married to one of the biggest rock stars in the planet (Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys), and she still had trouble getting treatment.

Yes. When you live in the middle of New York City and money isn’t an issue and you still can’t get to the bottom of it, that’s a scary situation. People not in Kathleen’s situation, which is most of us, are being ignored. A lot of women are being told that it’s in their head.

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