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Documentary On Riot Grrl Kathleen Hanna In The Works

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist November 25, 2010 at 4:12AM

If you were a fan of punk rock during the early 1990s, there's no way you could have missed the noise coming out of the Pacific Northwest. An underground feminist movement known as riot grrl gripped the scene, calling for great accessibility for women and it spawned a creative outpouring with zines, art and activism all aimed at giving women a voice. And of course, there was the music. Bands like Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney and Team Dresch contributed to the outpouring of female-led acts -- some more notable and memorable than others -- but none would have the widespread impact and acclaim of Bikini Kill. Fronted by Kathleen Hanna, the band was one of the loudest voices to emerge from the scene and the unofficial spokespeople for the movement (at least to the media). Now, nearly two decades after the movement caused a rupture in punk rock, a documentary will try and tell the story of one its key figures.
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If you were a fan of punk rock during the early 1990s, there's no way you could have missed the noise coming out of the Pacific Northwest. An underground feminist movement known as riot grrl gripped the scene, calling for great accessibility for women and it spawned a creative outpouring with zines, art and activism all aimed at giving women a voice. And of course, there was the music. Bands like Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney and Team Dresch contributed to the outpouring of female-led acts -- some more notable and memorable than others -- but none would have the widespread impact and acclaim of Bikini Kill. Fronted by Kathleen Hanna, the band was one of the loudest voices to emerge from the scene and the unofficial spokespeople for the movement (at least to the media). Now, nearly two decades after the movement caused a rupture in punk rock, a documentary will try and tell the story of one its key figures.

"The Kathleen Hanna Project a.k.a Who Told You Christmas Wasn’t Cool?" is a film in the works by Sini Anderson (a co-founder of the lesbian/feminist collective Sister Spit) that will chronicle Hanna's life from Oregon to New York City covering the personal, political and musical. It's an ambitious undertaking, certainly, and one that will be watched closely in many quarters as Hanna was a figure of controversy as much as she was an inspiration to many.

The project is still in very early stages as Anderson is looking to raise funds and footage for the project (a benefit concert set for next month is already sold out). You can check out the lengthy statement of intent by Anderson about the film after the jump and track the progress of the film via Facebook. [TwentyFourBit]

The first question that the mention of a documentary about Kathleen Hanna prompts is usually, why hasn’t one already been made? Few figures in contemporary American culture who have wielded as much influence as Hanna have escaped film portraiture. Credited as a founder of the third wave of feminism and the Riot Grrl political, musical, and art movement – Kathleen Hanna has been seminal radical activist, musician, and cultural icon for over 20 years. From her early days making zines and fronting the groundbreaking punk feminist band Bikini Kill, Hanna has been a leader of the feminist movement, as well as a lightening rod for any and all controversy surrounding it.

To document her political work, her musical work, and the inextricable relationship between the two could alone provide material for any number of documentary films, but this film is not an archive of Hanna’s work. Its goal is not to document her influence on popular culture or to explain what she has already done.

The Kathleen Hanna Project seeks to marry cultural history with personal narrative to answer the more sophisticated and compelling question of who Kathleen Hanna is and why she has provided such a provocative symbol for people to rally both in support of, and against. Hanna, like many cultural icons assailed by worship and controversy, is a very private person. In order to accurately assemble such a portrait, a film like this must be created by someone who not only possesses a personal knowledge and experience of the cultural context, but also of Kathleen herself. Sini Anderson, director of The Kathleen Hanna project is exactly that person. A director, poet, and activist, Anderson is the founder of Sister Spit—the all-female spoken-word performing tour that took the country by storm throughout the 90’s. She knows the challenges that accompany trying to motivate large groups of people through art, and understands that feminist history is haphazardly documented. Anderson and Hanna’s work overlapped in the 90’s and they shared many parallel experiences though not meeting at the time. Because of this Anderson brings a profound compassion and curiosity to the search for Kathleen’s story, and a unique access to it.

To arrive at her unflinching vision of Hanna, her life, and deepest motives, Anderson, now a close and trusted friend, follows Hanna’s story from her uncle’s drag queen bar in Portland, Oregon back to New York City, where Hanna now lives with her husband, Beastie Boys’ Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. Asking tough questions, about the dual desires to affect change and remain protected, to be seen and unseen, to succeed and to self-destruct. The film becomes, also, a portrait of a friendship—in all its humor, pathos, and intimacy.

As an artist of many mediums, Anderson’s work is fundamentally concerned with the connection between visuals and music—how a sound prompts an image, an image a feeling, and how rhythmically they move together. Documentaries are not often renowned for their beauty, but Anderson knows that the best documentaries reveal truth, and truth can be most accurately stated in art, not reportage.


Bikini Kill "Rebel Girl"


Bikini Kill "Carnival"


Bikini Kill "I Hate Danger"

This article is related to: Musicians, Kathleen Hanna, The Kathleen Hanna Project a.k.a Who Told You Christmas Wasn’t Cool?


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