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Matthew Walker’s new film about a renegade middle-aged Australian country music singer who attempts to hold things together long enough so she can get to Nashville, record her definitive album and fulfil a lifelong dream opens in select cinemas around Australia this week.
Here are five things you need to know about this unmissable documentary
Who the f*#k is Wanita?
Wanita is more than a country singer, she is a country song! Raised on the Murray River in Yorta Yorta country, she began singing along to Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams cassettes long before she started school. Wanita always knew she was born to be a country star, and dreamed of performing at the Grand Ole Opry from the moment she learned to strum a guitar and press record. Her music career has taken her to great heights including a tour of Sweden, and some lesser known dusty tracks as she juggled the demands of motherhood and autism. With three (largely ignored) solo albums under her belt, Wanita finally realised her lifelong dream by recording an album in Nashville Tennessee. That album, also titled I’m Wanita, is a scorching and honest collection of self and friendpenned songs, produced by US country music legend Billy Yates and recorded in Beaird Studios, Nashville. The album has captured the dichotomy of Wanita’s life and torrid mood swings, her monumental stage presence, her exceptional vocal capacity and her deep connection with traditional country music. She sings directly to the emotionally undernourished, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden.
So what’s I’m Wanita about?
I’m Wanita is the story of a renegade country music singer and her odyssey to live out her childhood dream to become a country music star. Twenty-five years ago Wanita arrived in Tamworth, a rural town also known as Australia’s Country Music Capital, with stars in her eyes. Today, in her late 40s, she is Australia’s self-crowned ‘Queen Of Honky Tonk’ but is still waiting for the recognition she knows she deserves. Colourful, crass and obsessed with the sound and stars of country music from a bygone era, Wanita is on the verge of giving up – she feels shut out by the mainstream country scene. Frequently side-tracked by partying and helping seemingly any straggler who crosses her path, she has found it difficult to keep her dreams on track. Wanita is estranged from her daughter, and her husband thinks her dreams of country music stardom are a joke and resents her spending money on trying to save every down-and-out. In spite of the naysayers, Wanita finds unlikely allies in fellow musicians Gleny Rae Virus and Archer. They believe in her talent and agree to accompany her on a quest to record an album in Nashville, following in the footsteps of her Honky Tonk idols. Once on the road, the trio discover Wanita’s excesses and distractions threaten to derail them. As part of the trio’s American odyssey they travel to the birthplace of rock’n’roll Sun Studio in Memphis; take to the streets and studios of New Orleans, and find themselves in country music’s hallowed ground: Nashville, Tennessee. Will a lifetime of dashed dreams overshadow this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or will she stand and deliver? This is a film about the power of music, human fragility, the loyalty of friends, and the frontiers of dreams and delusions.
Who made it?
I’m Wanita is Matthew Walker’s first feature-documentary as a writer and director. Before directing his own film Matthew has been an Australian film and television editor for over fifteen years with more than 30 feature and television credits. As an editor Matthew has received an Australian Screen Editors Award for Best Editing: Factual and a Walkley Award for his work on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent. In 2015 Matthew directed a short film about Wanita called Heart of the Queen which won Best Australian Short at the Antenna Documentary Festival. He continued to follow Wanita’s story for the next 5 years, culminating in the film I’m Wanita.
Listen to our Podcast interview with Matthew Walker below:
What’s the history of I’m Wanita?
I’m Wanita originated when director Matthew Walker was approached to make a promotional video about a country singer, in late 2013. From the outset, filming with Wanita at ‘Honkytonkville’, her home in Tamworth, was wonderfully chaotic and unpredictable. Matt witnessed a shambolic world, full of weird and magnetic energy, with Wanita at the epicentre. Captivated by his subject, Matt spent 2014 in post-production on the resultant short film Heart of the Queen. The 25-minute short was programmed into film festivals, won Australia’s Antenna Documentary Festival Short Film Award and a special mention at Sydney’s Flickerfest. But the story showed no signs of stopping… In 2017 Matthew approached Michaela Perske (Girls Can’t Surf) at Pursekey Productions to develop his idea into a feature film. With development finance from Screen Australia, he began filming again at Honkytonkville where huge revelations emerged, and Wanita began hatching her plans for her mission to Nashville – as unlikely as that then seemed. Matt met Clare and Carolina while editing their film, There Goes Our Neighbourhood. So inspired by Wanita and her chaotic, off-beat universe, People Productions set about acquiring the rights to make the feature film, just in time for Wanita’s lifelong odyssey to unfurl before their eyes. Tait Brady came on board as Producer and Distributor and together we hustled the finance to make the film. The resulting shoot in USA was fittingly wild and unpredictable, with Wanita dazzling and confusing everyone she met – but ultimately delivering an impressive album, despite – or possibly because of – her unpredictable, wildfire personality.
Where can I see it?
I’m Wanita will release in select cinemas around Australia from September 23. More cinemas will be announced throughout the year as cinemas begin to reopen in NSW and Victoria.
Tasmania from October 14
Hobart: State Cinema Book here
New South Wales from November 7
Albury: Village Cinemas Book here