Wanita Bahtiyar is perfect material for a documentary. Dubbed Australia’s “Honky-tonk Queen”, Wanita (her mother was illiterate, hence the odd spelling) has lived in Tamworth for most of her life. Well known on Australia’s country music scene, in her late 40s she still dreams of making it big.
Director Matthew Walker spent five years following Wanita and her squad around as she scrapes up the money for a trip to Nashville.
I’m Wanita is a rollicking honky-tonk boot-scoot of a film. Equal parts hilarious, frustrating, moving, and stunning, just like its eponymous subject, it almost takes on a mythic quality as we follow the heroine’s journey. Here is a difficult woman. Someone who is enormously generous with strangers and acquaintances, yet seems oblivious to the needs of those around her, such as her estranged daughter, her husband Baba, and her long-suffering colleague and manager, Gleny Rae Virus. Walker mixes fly-on-the-wall scenes of domestic bickering, with beautifully staged drone shots of Wanita, and archival footage of her early career. His camera is as patient with his subject as are the people around her.
There is also something intrinsically Australian about this film. Although Wanita herself is steeped in the heritage of Hank Williams and her idol Loretta Lynn, she is the kind of woman that could only have grown up in Yorta Yorta country, and could only live in Tamworth. She is a true Aussie woman, with a vocabulary to match. At one stage she is heard to ponder whether she is just a “fabricated delusional f**kwit”.
Along with the music (and she is an amazing performer), important to Wanita’s story are two other aspects of her life: her autism, and her work in the sex industry, both of which she is authentic and open about. Walker worked with consultants on both of these areas, ensuring respect and accuracy.
Although the Queen herself is the main subject of this film, it is one populated with extraordinary characters, including Gleny Rae, Baba, and singer-songwriter cum “bag man” Archer, whose voice is enough to make a grown woman weep.
For lovers of country music, this feature is a no-brainer. But it will also no doubt garner new followers for both the genre, and performers Wanita, Archer, and Gleny Rae. This film has it all: love, life, loss, mistakes, arguments, love, hugs, damn fine music, and possibly one too many vodkas.
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