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SXSW Interview with Sini Anderson, Tamra Davis and Kathleen Hanna of The Punk Singer

Interviews
by Kerensa Cadenas
March 29, 2013 2:00 PM
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WaH: One thing that really came up for me during the film was the whole idea of documentation.  How difficult was it to collect and gather these things? I'm assuming you have a pretty big personal archive.

KH: A kind of serendipitous thing happened. My friend who used to be my roommate back in Olympia was very much present for the whole Riot Grrrl thing. She took one of the photo sets that's in the movie of me and Tobi [Vail] and Kathi [Wilcox], right when we are talking about the band breaking up.  Lisa Darms, who is the archivist who now does the Riot Grrrl archive at NYU has been a close friend of mine for years and years and years. We went to a panel at the NYU archive, the Fales Archive, where now the archive is located, together. They were talking about the downtown archive and Richard Heil and stuff. I was like, I need a place to put my filing cabinet. I've been dragging that thing around for fucking ever. I wish somebody would start the Riot Grrrl archive. At the time, she wasn't working at NYU, she had a different job. She got a call a couple of weeks later where they were like, "Do you wanna come work here?" The first thing she said was that "I want to do a Riot Grrrl archive." It was almost a joke and then it started happening.

I got interns who helped me decide what was going to go in and what wasn't--those were all really almost political decisions. Decisions that ended up being in this film of "how much do you share" and "how much do you hold back." You want to share enough of your stuff that isn't necessarily attractive, that people see themselves in it because we're not all perfect. But, you also don't want to be somebody with no boundaries who doesn't protect yourself. I think that kind of negotiation, I learned from doing the archive stuff. The serendipitous part besides that was that I got to give them all the videotapes I had and I got to ask other people for videotapes. They started putting them all onto DVDs and digitized them all. The film really benefitted from that. There's just a stack of things that have already been digitized instead of having to get VHS players.

SA: It would have been another year at least without that work being done.

TD: It was just amazing that that access was there and you just had already so much on DVD.

SA: Kathleen was a pre-production demon.

TD: I was looking through my files and I saw this footage and it was all this great footage of Bikini Kill live, but it was also of her and Adam.

KH: It was us falling in love on her camera because we were all on tour together.

TD: It's another one of these tapes hidden in my basement. And I was sitting in the editing room looking at it with this weird feeling that Kathleen mentions, where she is looking at herself and it's like a seeing a different person. Looking at it, it's like Kathleen, Adam and I--and I don't even remember any of that. And, here is all of this beautiful, beautiful footage. So, I just can't even imagine. Are there other people out there that have this footage somewhere lying around?

KH: They definitely don't have that kind of footage because they weren't backstage.

TD: But, the archive is just so amazing. It was so exciting that she had done so much of that work.

WaH: I remember that you put something on your blog or Twitter, calling people to submit stuff. Did a lot of people reach out to you?

KH: It really ended up being friends. Also, I wrote to a lot of people on YouTube. I just would find a clip on YouTube and a lot of times I couldn't even watch it, but I know that that show was big. It was a turning point for us or a really messed up show. I would email that person and be like, "Hey!" Some people actually didn't believe it was me. I would do the, this is horrible, the kidnap victim thing of holding up a newspaper and taking a picture of myself and sending it. It's hilarious.

WaH: One thing that I think is really important with women and women's careers is having mentors, idols or people who've helped you in your careers. I was just wondering if all of you could talk about that. 

SA: I think it's really really important. One of the things when I was making the film, when I was starting out, I thought over and over again was who are the women in the industry, in telling Kathleen's story--who are the smartest feminists that I want to see this film to give me honest feedback about what I'm missing? Who are the smartest women in music that I want to watch this film before it's finished and let me know musically what is missing? Tamra is who I thought of for film. I really wanted to talk with Tamra Davis.

So, I had a conversation with Tamra before we ever started production. She was open to that and had me over to her place and talked to me about it. She said you should try this and try this,  and just gave me great advice. It was something that was on the forefront of my mind because I'm not an expert.  It was really amazing to have Tamra come back and finish the project when she was the person I went to when I started it.

TD: For me, when I started out, I wanted to direct in the 80s and there were so few females making films, and not all of them were very approachable. You have so many questions and you need somebody to look at your work and help you. It's an incredibly valuable thing and there should be more women as role models and also as mentors. It helps inspire a whole new generation. We have to build that next generation because those stories are so important.  Sini put such energy into making this film because the story had to be told.  I was just really excited to be involved with it. So, hopefully, it inspires other women to mentor in whatever field and hopefully other directors too.

KH: So, in a way, I'm going to speak for you, I think what Tamra is trying to say is that maybe you looked for a mentor that wasn't there. Then, you became the mentor that you wish that you would have had.

WaH: Kathleen, what about you?

KH: What? I did it all myself! I don't need any mentors! President of Riot Grrrl! Created feminism! Created punk rock as a genre! No, I mean, Simone de Beauvoir, and a ton of writers just totally changed my life. She was a real early one for me. I was like, "Whoah! I'm oppressed? What!" 

Other feminist thinkers and writers likeKathy Acker, Julia Kristeva, a lot of the French feminists were really influential to me and artists that were in the film and others who weren't, like Karen Finley, Leslie Gore. bell hooks, obviously.  I totally ripped off her whole thing, turned her whole thing into songs. But in general for me it was just feminism. These were my people. This is my life raft and I want to get on this life raft because I'm sick of feeling like sexism is my own personal affliction because it's not. It's something that different people are experiencing at the same time and we need to help each other out instead of internalizing it to the point of externalizing it onto each other.

SA: And on that note, I would like to say that I think that we are at a place where we can have these mentors, and we can also find them. They are more accessible than we really believe. I think it's really important that young women know that. Go after the people that you really want to be your mentors, but also look at your best friend. There is a lot in there.

Dream big and just ask. People want to help.


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