The Punk Singer

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The Punk Singer
The Punk Singer logo.jpg
Directed bySini Anderson
Produced by
  • Jennie Jeddry
  • Moira Morel
Edited by
  • Jessica Hernández
  • Bo Mehrad
Release dates
  • March 10, 2013 (2013-03-10) (SXSW film festival)
  • November 29, 2013 (2013-11-29) (Limited theatrical and digital)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Punk Singer is a 2013 documentary film about feminist singer Kathleen Hanna who fronted the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, and who was a central figure in the riot grrrl movement. Directed by filmmaker Sini Anderson and produced by Anderson and Tamra Davis, the film's title is taken from the Julie Ruin song "The Punk Singer", from Hanna's 1998 solo effort.


Using a combination of interviews and archival footage including live band performances, the film traces the life and career of Hanna from her troubled upbringing and her start in spoken word performance poetry, through her riot grrrl zines, her prominent punk and dance-punk bands, her coining of the phrase "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for Kurt Cobain, her solo career as Julie Ruin, her feminist activism, her marriage to Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz, and ending with Hanna's 2010 diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease and the severe treatments she endures to combat it.[1]


Anderson filmed Hanna off and on for a year starting in July 2010.[2] Hanna had already amassed a collection of archival footage and ephemera; these and further finds were worked into the documentary.[3] Horovitz appears as a strong, steadying supporter of his wife, and he filmed one of the more troubling scenes himself.[1] Co-producer Davis, the wife of Beastie Boy Mike D, came to the project near the end to help finish it. Anderson funded the film through various ways, initially with a benefit concert including Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon performing at the Knitting Factory and then through a Kickstarter campaign which raised $46,000.[4][5][6] The film, Anderson's first feature-length documentary, premiered in March 2013 at SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas, where it was positively reviewed.[7] The film was picked up for distribution in North America by Sundance Selects.[8][9] On November 29, 2013, its general theatrical release was initiated in New York and Los Angeles, as well as a digital release on iTunes.[10][11]

The film was the first public announcement of Hanna's battle with Lyme disease.[2][12][13] Since 2005, Hanna had been struggling with symptoms of the disease without knowing the cause; this resulted in her telling her Le Tigre bandmates that she was finished as a singer/songwriter, that she had written all she ever intended to write.[14] In the film Hanna says that this explanation was not true, that instead she was suffering nervous system troubles and that she did not want to admit she was unable to perform on stage.[15] The film was also the first public revelation of certain details of Hanna's childhood and her marriage.[1]


The film interviews many people who observed Hanna's career including:[16]

Hanna determined that the number of men interviewed should be minimal. She told Anderson not to feature Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, or Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening, even though she liked them and respected their opinions. She said, "I want women to be the experts. I don't want these male experts to come in to make it legitimate."[1] Hanna wanted Tobi Vail, zine writer and bandmember of Bikini Kill to be interviewed in the film, but Vail chose to keep her privacy.[10] In the film, Vail appears in archival footage to talk about Hanna and the punk scene.


  1. ^ a b c d Olsen, Mark (March 12, 2013). "SXSW 2013: Kathleen Hanna reemerges in 'The Punk Singer'". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b Valby, Karen (March 12, 2013). "Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna reveals illness, reconfirms awesomeness in 'The Punk Singer'". Entertainment Weekly.
  3. ^ Schroeder, Audra (March 8, 2013). "Kathleen Hanna Kills It". The Austin Chronicle.
  4. ^ Pompeo, Joe (October 4, 2011). "Kathleen Hanna documentary nears $44,000 Kickstarter goal". Capital New York. Retrieved September 30, 2013.
  5. ^ Bose, Lilledeshan (October 6, 2011). "Kathleen Hanna Documentary Fully Funded on Kickstarter". Orange County Weekly.
  6. ^ Anderson, Sini (September 27 – October 27, 2011). "The Punk Singer: The Documentary about Kathleen Hanna". Kickstarter. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  7. ^ Hasty, Katie (March 26, 2013). "Interview: Kathleen Hanna talks 'The Punk Singer,' Beyonce and crying in public". Hit Fix. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  8. ^ Olsen, Mark (June 24, 2013). "Kathleen Hanna doc 'The Punk Singer' lands with Sundance Selects". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Ryzik, Melena (September 1, 2013). "Riot Grrrl Back From the Brink – Kathleen Hanna Returns With the Julie Ruin". The New York Times.
  10. ^ a b Van Syckle, Katie (November 27, 2013). "Kathleen Hanna: 'I Didn't Want Men to Validate Me'". Rolling Stone.
  11. ^ Wickman, Forrest (November 29, 2013). "'Girls to the Front': How Kathleen Hanna Helped Make Punk Safe for Women". Brow Beat. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  12. ^ Macaulay, Scott (April 9, 2013). "Kathleen Hanna, Sini Anderson and Tamra Davis Discuss The Punk Singer at SXSW". Filmmaker.
  13. ^ Shepherd, Julianne Escobedo (August 7, 2013). "Kathleen Hanna: Love Among the Ruin". Spin.
  14. ^ Kohn, Eric (March 12, 2013). "SXSW Review: 'The Punk Singer' Demonstrates the Lasting Vitality of Feminist Rocker Kathleen Hanna". Indiewire. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  15. ^ DeFore, John (March 13, 2013). "The Punk Singer: SXSW Review". The Hollywood Reporter.
  16. ^ Anderson, Sini. "Punk Singer Press Notes". Opening band films. Archived from the original on October 2, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2013. Zipped Microsoft Word file at Archived 2013-10-02 at the Wayback Machine

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