More than 40 hours of video footage has come out of the depths of musician Patty Schemel’s closet and onto the big screen in the documentary Hit So Hard.

The film, which makes its Australian premiere on February 24 at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, is an unflinching portrait of Schemel’s life, including the pain of growing up gay in small town Marysville, Washington, her alcohol and drug addiction, the loss of her close friend Kurt Cobain, bandmate Kristen Pfaff, her ensuing homelessness and the long struggle to return to sobriety.

Yet it’s also an important piece of musical history, capturing Schemel’s six years in alternative rock band Hole, led by controversial front woman, Courtney Love, and exploring what it’s like to be both female and a gay drummer in the male-dominated world of music.

All of this is undeniably captivating subject matter but, according to Schemel, there was never any intention of turning the tapes she had stored in a box in her wardrobe for years into a film. Instead, she merely wanted to preserve them before they disintegrated.

“I couldn’t consider myself a filmmaker,” she told the Star Observer. “I got the camera for Christmas from my girlfriend.

“The other members of Hole, Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur, were both documenting our world tour in their own ways. I’m not such a writer and thought it was a great way to record what was going on at the time.”

In her quest to digitise the tapes, a friend put Schemel in contact with filmmakers P David Ebersole and Todd Hughes who realised she had the makings of a documentary.

Though the two are not documentary filmmakers, they took on the challenge in part because Schemel only wanted to work with someone she could trust to tell her story accurately and not exploit the personal and sensitive material, such as footage of her time spent living with Courtney Love, her husband Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and their child, Frances Bean.

The process of making Hit So Hard was also a chance for Schemel to resolve many of her demons. Though she replaced Hole’s original drummer, Carolyn Rue, in 1992, Schemel was the longest-serving drummer in the band.

She was deeply hurt when, during the recording of their last album, Celebrity Skin, the decision was made to replace her with a session musician, which resulted in Schemel’s departure and spelt an end to her tentative grip on sobriety.

“What happened to me with Celebrity Skin happens a lot more than I ever knew. It was a rude awakening,” Schemel said. “It seemed like how we began as a band became the exact opposite and I felt really angry and betrayed.”

After speaking to her old Hole bandmates, who are each interviewed in the film, Schemel was able to let go of those feelings and forgave them.

Last year, with Hole’s co-founder Eric Erlandson, Schemel played two of the band’s best-known songs, Violet and Miss World again for the first time when the film screened at Outfest in Los Angeles.

“They seem so effortless to play, because they are not technically difficult songs, but I had carried so many memories around with them,” Schemel recalled. “But that time has gone and I’m in a different place now.”

She may have moved on from Hole, but Schemel still plays in rock bands and remembers the safety that music gave her.

“I was drawn to punk rock before I came out because I knew there were all kinds of different freaks like me and I liked that it wasn’t the sort of music you heard on the radio,” she recalled.

“Playing in Hole, I felt really comfortable because our music had that same aggressive energy. For different reasons, everyone in that band felt weird and alone.”

Schemel has been sober for more than seven years now and lives in Los Angeles with her wife, child and dogs. The latter played an important part in her rehabilitation and taught her about leading a simpler, peaceful life.

“My life is much slower now, and I like that,” she said. “Before, my band was the most important thing in my life, but there’s so much more I was able to discover.”

INFO: Hit So Hard screens February 24, Cinema Paris. www.mgff.queerscreen.com.au

By MITCHELL JORDAN

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