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A new documentary on Tina Turner’s life not only tells her story of abuse, but how she has overcome her challenges. In a BT.com exclusive, directors TJ Martin and Daniel Lindsay reveal how they worked on such a sensitive project.
This is not the first time Tina Turner has told her story, but it will be the final time.
Living out her final chapter in a lavish mansion in Switzerland, the 81-year-old closes the curtain on her public life with a documentary that, according to the filmmakers, simply tells her story.
In an exclusive interview with BT.com, directors Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin revealed the global superstar was thrilled with the end result of Tina, which airs in the UK on Sky Documentaries with NOW.
‘It was a joy for her to watch’
“She got on Zoom with the producer Simon Chin and afterwards Simon reported back to us she was beaming when she got on and she was very happy with the film,” Daniel said.
“It was a joy for her to watch some of this old footage – it’s not like she’s going back and watching YouTube highlights of herself, so to just be reminded of some of the things!”
He added that what was most important to them is that her story was told truthfully.
“What was the compliment to us was the she said it was accurate. She’s like, ‘that’s how it happened’. As documentary filmmakers, that was something we were happy to hear but I think for her, she said to Simon it wasn’t as hard for her to watch as she had expected.
“I think as the film speaks to you, maybe that speaks to you a bit of the truth of her coming to a place of acceptance with the story of Tina Turner.”
Overcoming incredible odds
It was key to the directors that the subject matter didn’t cause any unwanted distress to Tina.
As she says herself in a 2019 interview in the film: “It wasn’t a good life. The good did not balance the bad. I had an abusive life – there’s no other way to tell it. It’s a reality. It’s a truth. That’s what you’ve got, so you have to accept it.”
The story of her abuse at the hands of ex-husband Ike Turner is not new, but the details are still shocking. The film reveals that Ike used to abuse her with a shoe stretcher and coat hanger before having sex with her and making her go on stage.
The documentary also explores how her mother suddenly left the family home when Tina was just 11 years old. Her version of this story represents a theme of the film – that she has overcome incredible odds to become a true icon.
“She used to sit in the window of the kitchen when she was making dinner on Sundays. I used to just watch her because she was so pretty. One day, she wasn’t in that window.
“She was never in it again. I wanted her to come for me. And I waited. She never did.
“And it was alright. You know why? I’m a girl from a cotton field who pulled myself above the destruction and the mistakes.”
‘The pain of her past is still lurking’
In the present day, Tina suffers from PTSD as a result of her experiences. The directors said they were acutely aware that the film could trigger her.
TJ said: “The biggest revelation for us, [from] the first few conversations we had with her, was learning that the pain of her past is still lurking right around the corner. It’s always there in that she’s still processing a lot of her trauma of her past.
“She was nearing 80 years old when we discovered this and for us this was something we couldn’t really shake.
“We actually decided to lean in on that and that information is what gave us the point of view of the film, which is can you tell the story of Tina Turner but also tell the story of Tina trying to come to terms with and explore the relationship with the narrative of Tina.”
Despite the harrowing subject matter, the genius of Tina is that above anything else, it feels like a celebration of her life.
Dan explained: “It dives into the trauma of her life but it is very much a celebration of her, what she was able to accomplish in her life and how she was able to chart a course for her life against unbelievable odds.
“Not only in kind of general odds of what it takes to become a world icon, but also the odds against what society – especially the society she was born into – what that society would say she was able to do or not. And Tina kind of said ‘no, I’m going to do this’. And did it."
After nearly two hours of an expertly created documentary, the end credits are played on a backdrop of her performing The Best on stage in the swaggering, powerful way that she was known for. The song choice seems at risk of coming across as too heavy handed from a creative point of view, but it works - by that point viewers will never be able to watch Tina Turner perform in the same way again.
TINA is available to watch on Sky Documentaries with the NOW Entertainment Membership, and will be available on other formats at altitude.film.
First and third image copyright: © 2021 Altitude Film Entertainment Ltd