Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin kicked off a decade at the forefront of filmmaking with their 2011 Oscar winner Undefeated, about the struggles of a high school football team. Now they’re telling the story of the mighty Tina Turner with TINA. We spoke to the documentary duo about how they ended up working with an icon – and if this will be the last public appearance for the 81-year-old legend.
So much of Tina’s story is already out there. What was left for your film to tell people about her?
Lindsay: “The question you’re asking is basically the first thing that Tina said to us when we met her. ‘There’s a movie, there’s a book, now there’s a musical. What the hell are you gonna make a documentary about?’ Those were her literal first words. We started to realise that Tina has become a symbol of strength and resilience for a lot of people, but it didn’t seem like anybody had ever really talked to her about how she feels about being that. We wanted to show that her [dealing with being] a survivor is a process that goes on even into her retirement. She’s still struggling with the effects of the trauma she’s suffered in her life. That was what we latched on to.”
What did Tina make of the film when she saw it?
Lindsay: “We finished editing during quarantine. Normally we would have flown to Zurich and shown her the film, but we were able to get a theatre there and she went and saw it [without us]. Simon, the producer, Zoomed with her afterwards and she was smiling. She really liked the film and said ‘You guys got it right. That’s how it happened.’”
How did you decide how much of the film to dedicate to Ike Turner and his violent abuse of Tina?
Martin: “I think there’s an assumption that everyone knows Tina’s story, but there’s definitely a generational divide. People in their thirties and forties have a basic understanding of the Tina Turner story, but the younger generation don’t really have a sense of who she is or who Ike Turner is. We wanted to make sure it was the Tina Turner story, not the Tina and Ike Turner story. That was pretty fundamental.”
What was your first meeting with Tina like?
Lindsay: “The nice thing about Tina is that nothing happens before 2pm. There’s even a sign outside her place. ‘No deliveries, no packages, no bells please before two.’ So we went in the afternoon. People will talk about celebrities being down to earth and TJ and I will just roll our eyes at that idea, but she genuinely is very down to earth.”
Were any subjects off-limits during your interviews?
Lindsay: “No. There were certain things we knew we had archive recordings on that we didn’t need for her to go into granular detail on, but nothing was off the table. There are certain subjects that Tina lights up talking about and others where she’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve told this before…’”
What are those subjects where she lights up?
Lindsay: “Fashion. Spirituality. The afterlife. We talked a lot about karma and the third eye.”
Martin: “And home decorating!”
In the film, Tina’s husband Erwin says the documentary is closure for Tina. Does that mean this film is her last public appearance?
Lindsay: “We’ve been asked that a lot! I almost feel like they need to put out a public statement! It’s Tina so, who knows, she can do whatever she wants. When we did our interview she talked about not wanting to do these types of things again and I think we definitely got the impression that the interview we did with her is probably the last thing she’s going to do. Tina worked for 60 years as a performer around the world – she wants to relax and enjoy her retirement.”
This is your first music film, but TJ has a musical heritage – both your parents were in a band…
Martin: “They were in a punk band [Bam Bam] in Seattle in the ‘80s. My mum was a singer, but dad was a guitar player. My mum’s story has been getting a lot of attention of late because she was a Black lead singer of a punk band right before grunge hit and I think she’s been kind of left out of grunge Seattle music history.”
Would you ever make a film about her story?
Martin: “I’ve thought a lot about what that journey looks like through her lens. Maybe one day, it’ll take some time probably. They had me when they were really young, so I was around, I was going to all these shows, but she didn’t talk to me about it that much and unfortunately they’ve both since passed, so it would take a lot of digging and a lot of research.”
You’re both Oscar winners – what do you think about this year’s nominations?
Lindsay: “This has been an unbelievable year for documentaries – we’re both in the academy, so we’re part of the nominating committee. Collective is incredible – we both put it in for Best Picture. It’s about a group of journalists that uncover an immense amount of corruption in the Romanian health system, but it’s like a thriller. It’s a crazy, crazy story.”