THE PUNK SINGER

If you haven’t yet heard of director Sini Anderson’s latest project, here’s a quick taste.  THE PUNK SINGER is a documentary of famed Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna (also one of the founders of the Riot Grrrl movement).  I’m sure a lot of us have been waiting for a film like this to come along — Anderson herself states on her kickstarter page: “The first question that the mention of a documentary about Kathleen Hanna prompts is usually, Why hasn’t one already been made?”

The Riot Grrrl movement wasn’t just about music, though.  It was part of the “third wave” of feminism and fueled by a core punk principle: do it yourself.  Read Rachel Smith’s piece from September 22, “Revolution Girl Style, 20 Years Later” on the Riot Grrrl movement.

So what’s so impressive about Sini Anderson’s project?

1.  It’s a project that’s been long-awaited by many a Riot Grrrl, even those on the fringes of the movement like me. (Yes, I read lots of zines in my teens thanks to my older sister who introduced me to Cometbus, Housewife Turned Assassin and Nomy Lamm’s genius I’m So Fucking Beautiful, and I even did several issues of my own in the late 90’s (“FiST”) and have always considered myself a third waver, in large part thanks to zines.)  Kathleen Hanna put out her own zine, too.  Read the linked article above.

2. It’s now a fully funded kickstarter project.  That’s impressive in itself seeing as how the campaign goal was pretty high: $44,000.  Many crowdfunded projects crash and burn due to too-high campaign goals.  Today, with 16 days left in the campaign, it has surpassed its goal by over $4,000. They continue raising money, and the majority of the project’s kickstarter backers pledged at the “over $25” or “over $50” level.  It is truly a small donation fundraising success. In addition to Anderson spending her own savings on her documentary, she has nearly 1,000 backers on kickstarter.

Why is THIS project a crowdfunding success and not so many other (also deserving) projects?  It’s probably a combination of factors, and that’s one mystery to the whole crowdfunding phenomenon.  What’s in the zeitgeist and what appeals to people at any given time? Who’s likely to donate? Are you depending upon your personal network as a filmmaker to raise these funds? So many questions arise from discussions about crowdfunding, and I hope to explore this issue more in the future here on Her Film.

3.  It’s an independent project — a documentary — and NOT a story that has been co-opted by the studio system, adapted as a feebly written biopic and turned into a piece of garbage.  And yet still there’s a HUGE audience for it.  People like to watch documentaries and hear the truth and the facts about figures like Kathleen Hanna, huh?  Go figure!

4.  It’s a woman-focused, woman-made project.  Yes!  How Riot Grrrl is that?  There’s a lot of talk online about it and a lot of excitement!  Sini Anderson herself is a founding member of the famed Sister Spit spoken word & performance art collective.

Watch the trailer

To learn more about THE PUNK SINGER and to support this project, check out these links:

THE PUNK SINGER on facebook

Kathleen Hanna’s piece on THE PUNK SINGER

Bikini Kill on the Kill Rock Stars label

Sister Spit

Listen to Bikini Kill’s 1991 “Double Dare Ya” off of their first album (with lyrics: We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution Girl-style now!!!)

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BIG VOICE: An interview with filmmaker Varda Hardy

Poster proposal for Big Voice (image courtesy of the filmmaker)

VARDA HARDY is an award winning writer/director committed to creating meaningful and engaging films. Her shorts have had successful festival runs and garnered multiple awards, including “Crystal Heart Award” for her film “Window” and Grand Jury and Audience Award for “Ode to Los Angeles”. Varda wrote and directed the web series “Runaway Stars”, and co-wrote and directed the web pilot “House of Heather”. Her Branded Entertainment projects include Walmart’s “HD American Portraits”, “Summer Fun” and “Race to the Sky” for Detroit’s automotive industry, and “Rock For Equality” that was awarded “Most Innovative Video” by Youtube’s Non-Profit Video Awards. Following a global search for cutting edge directors, SHOOT magazine selected Varda’s work to be featured in their prestigious New Director’s Showcase. She co-chairs Women In Film PSA Program for whom she directs and produces Public Service Announcements. Varda is currently developing feature projects.

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HerFilm:  Tell us about your current film project, Big Voice.  How and when did you decide to pursue this documentary project?

Varda Hardy:  BIG VOICE is a feature documentary about a visionary high school choir director and his determined students. I decided to pursue this project last spring.  I’m making BIG VOICE because I want to tell a story about a great teacher, an effective arts education program and dedicated students who work hard and apply themselves, who aspire to achieve “great things”.

There are so many negative stories out there about schools, teachers and teens.  There is truth in those stories, but I want to share another kind of truth–the bright side.  I want to get young audiences all jazzed up about life and the possibilities that lay ahead of them.  I want them to know that though they may have to work super hard to and persevere through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even though it may be tough, they can still shape their lives according to their “dreams”.  I think this is an especially important story to tell during these economically bleak and austere times.

HF:  In making this film, what are you learning about stereotypes of teenagers and how the teens themselves deal with them?

VH: I am learning that teenagers are complex just like adults. And that they really do have one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood.  The very same teen can be profoundly wise one moment and quite silly or petty another.   I am also struck by how “normal” the teens I’m getting to know are.  They have strong values, a strong work ethic and poignant philosophical views contrary to the shallow depictions of teens in the hyped extreme world of “reality” shows.

HF:  In a time when education budgets in the U.S. are being aggressively slashed, what is your take on the state of arts education today?  Also, how do you think these cutbacks will affect the cultural future of American children?

VH: I am seriously concerned about the effect budget cuts will have on arts education.  I believe that art elevates our society.  It spurs insights, it feeds our spirits, it expands our awareness, makes us question, reflect, see the world in a different way.  Art creates space in our lives.  Most importantly, art brings joy to the world.  When students study the arts, they learn to value this inexplicable, at times impractical, illogical pursuit that profoundly enriches our society.

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Watch the trailer

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HF:  Teaching, for many, is a “call,” not unlike the inner “call” to become a physician or an activist for some cause.  One of your main protagonists is the teacher, Jeffe Huls.  Can you talk a bit about him and what you are learning about the craft of teaching?

VH:  I came into this project with an intellectual appreciation for teachers and what they do.  I have two daughters and I am deeply grateful to their teachers and for the knowledge and life lessons they have provided my children.  However, now that I have been witness to the “inner sanctum” of the classroom, I have a whole other level of appreciation for teachers and what they do.  Mr. Huls truly cares about his students.  He believes that teaching them to read music, to express a song with true artistry, to learn to cooperate so that they can merge their voices to become one “big voice” is a gift that will enrich their lives forever.  I gather from conversations I have had with adults who studied choir in high school, being a part of a a high school choir is a precious gift.

HF:  What have you learned, as an individual, about teenagers and their passions and dreams?

VH:  I have learned that some have passions and ambitious dreams like being a heart surgeon, a famous actor or singer. Others dream of having a family and a nice home, and some silently dream that tomorrow will bring them a stable life and a room of their own.

HF:  One of your benefactors is the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation FOR THE ARTS endowment.  How were you able to partner with them, and how will their involvement affect the life of your film (distribution, sales, etc.)?

VH: I created a PSA for the SMMEF Save Our School Fundraising Campaign featuring local kids along with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.  The PSA was one small cog in a giant wheel of volunteer efforts that raises  $1.5 million dollars in six weeks to restore teachers and vital school programs. Through that experience I grew appreciative of the SMMEF which funds many of the Santa Monica & Malibu Schools arts programs as well as academic enrichment programs and sports. I am in awe of what they accomplish under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Gross and I want to continue to support their efforts.  Again, I want children to know that they are important and our society cares about them.

HF:  What type of role as a filmmaker do you like to take as you are filming?  Do you simply observe or do you like to be more active with the people you are documenting?

VH: Mostly I observe. Sometimes I ask them to “do that again”.  But rarely.  I am doing interviews which I am finding to be extremely thought provoking and illuminating.

HF:  What type of production team you like to work with when you are making films?

VH:  I like to work with creative, self-motivated, easy going people who have a positive “can do” attitude.  I like them to have strong opinions which I openly invite.

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To find out more about BIG VOICE, take a look at these links:

Kickstarter campaign (ends Oct. 10, 2011)

•  Website of Varda Hardy and her IMDb page

•  Facebook page for BIG VOICE

Websites  for BIG VOICE: 

•  http://flavors.me/bigvoicemovie

•  http://bigvoicemovie.wordpress.com/

•  Trailer for “ODE TO LOS ANGELES” (PSA) — click here.

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UPDATE

Oct. 10, 2011

BIG VOICE is now a fully funded project on kickstarter, having surpassed its $40,000 campaign goal today by over $2,700 and receiving the support of 430 backers, the majority of whom were at the $25 or more, $40 or more and $100 or more donation levels.

MAMACHAS DEL RING: Interview with filmmaker Betty M Park

BIOGRAPHY

BETTY M PARK is a Korean American filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, and makes her debut as a feature film director with Mamachas del Ring. She works as a producer and editor in TV, and her work as an editor includes the documentary The Innocence Project, which screened at the 2003 Hamptons International Film Festival.

Betty was born and raised in New York, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in English and Philosophy. In addition to making films and TV, she continues to encourage others to resist the urge to punctuate her name.

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Her Film:  You work as a television producer and editor, with Mamachas del Ring being your directorial debut.  How did you draw from your producing and editing experience to inform this film?

Betty M Park: Being in the daily grind of telling stories for TV is definitely a kind of bootcamp for storytelling, and while I can’t point to specific links between that work and Mamachas del Ring, I’m sure it has helped develop my craft.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  Inevitably, filmmakers learn something about themselves in the process of making a film.  What have you taken away from your experience making this film and what did you learn from the women whose lives you documented?

BMP: One of the things that struck me the most is how similar Carmen Rosa’s experience as a struggling wrestler is to that of an independent filmmaker, or anyone who has an all-consuming passion for that matter. There are distinct choices we make in terms of prioritizing our personal lives versus our work, and these are the choices that in part define us and make us who we are.

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“The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it.”

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HF:  There is a strong theme of self-empowerment in Mamachas del Ring while also showing the cholitas’ reality of “gendered responsibilities” as you say on your website.  What do you think the legacy of the cholitas will be?  

BMP: My hope is that the cholita wrestling revolution has forever challenged and changed the stereotype of Bolivian indigenous women for both Bolivians and those abroad. I also think that, due to media-interest even outside of this specific documentary, cholita wrestling has provided an entertaining and interesting entry-point into a country and culture relatively unknown to your average person.

Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Mamachas has screened around the world in front of culturally diverse audiences from Buenos Aires to Montreal, Austria to Uruguay and many places in between.  Do you notice differences in how audiences interpret the story or their attitudes toward the film’s themes?

 

BMP: While I think each audience comes with a different background of information, I’m not sure I could speak to region-specific reactions. 

Generally speaking, I think what initially attracts people to Mamachas is the opportunity to peer into what appears to be a strange and exotic universe of women wrestling in indigenous clothing, but what they take away is a more personal connection with Carmen Rosa and her struggles. 

HF:  Did you have a film festival strategy and if so, how did you decide on where you wanted it to premiere and screen?

 

BMP: The general rule of thumb for me (and for most people, I think) was to try to premiere at a festival that was well-known enough to provide the opportunity to generate some press and “buzz,” in addition to having a strong market where there would be buyers and industry folks in attendance. The regional premieres that followed were also guided by a similar principle. 

I had always thought that Mamachas would have an audience outside of the US, and so for me international festivals were as important as the domestic ones. It was also extremely important to me to have a strong Latin American premiere, since this is a film about Latin America.

HF:  How have you utilized social media and new/online media for Mamachas?

 

BMP: Facebook and twitter have been invaluable in connecting with both fans of Mamachas, potential fans of Mamachas, and the film community. I reached out to a lot of pro-wrestling fans online, and diva-dirt.com was especially supportive. The site focuses specifically on female wrestling fans, and they were extremely generous in helping to promote the Indiepix DVD and VOD release of Mamachas earlier this summer.


Photo courtesy of the filmmaker

HF:  Can you describe your marketing and distribution plan for this film?

BMP: The marketing and distribution for this film relied heavily on connecting with folks in the film community through festivals and general word of mouth. There were a few identifiable audiences that I tried to reach out to, including fans of wrestling, fans of Latin American film/Latin American audiences, and the more general arthouse film crowd. Of course distribution comes down to having the right platform through which people can access the film, and right now it is available in its most democratic form–DVD and VOD.

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“There are distinct choices we make …that in part define us and make us who we are.”

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HF:  Are there any lessons or skills — technical, financial, creative — that you picked up along your journey making this film that you will apply to future projects?

BMP: One of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in this process is connecting with other filmmakers, many of whom have grappled with similar hurdles in the ups and downs of indie filmmaking, some of whom who have become dear friends. The film landscape is constantly evolving, and there will always be an infinite number of ways to approach it. To have a few trustworthy sounding boards within the community is priceless to me, and will be especially helpful moving forward with future projects.

Photo courtesy of Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

HF:  What’s next on your slate of projects?

BMP: I’m currently working on an animation, and exploring a few documentary ideas.

To connect with Betty M Park and learn more about her work, check out the following: