Review | Meet Australia’s Queen of Honky Tonk in ‘I’m Wanita’

I’m Wanita | Dir: Matthew Walker| ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

This documentary grew from Matthew Walker’s short 2014 Hot Doc about Australian country singer Wanita Bahtiyar who he met at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Blown away by her prodigious talent, he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t better known in Australia until the chaos that was her life revealed itself.

Although the tight knit Australian country music industry found her troublesome, Walker admired her frankness. Like Loretta Lynn, the singer she idolised, he saw Wanita as “the greatest interpreter of the common man, the common person, the common woman, the common [trans person]”, and she didn’t give a fuck.

Walker describes Wanita as a neuro-divergent person, who is open about her autism, her binge drinking, her smoking, her sex work and her estranged relationship with daughter Ellymay.

When Walker met Wanita, she had not given up on her dream to become a star even though 25 years in the industry saw her singing at the local pub while people chowed down on their pub meals. Money was always a problem, but then again Wanita has a habit of helping out strangers who are down on their luck.

Leaving her Turkish husband at home (that’s an entertaining story in itself), Wanita goes to America to try to realise her childhood dream at the age of 46. She is accompanied by a couple of faithful and equally talented friends – Gleny Rae and Archer (who she found under a bridge). Walker trailed them to Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville where Wanita recorded songs for her album.

It’s a rough ride as Wanita’s exhausting emotional ups and downs wear down her companions and hook in the audience. As unruly as her shock of red hair, there are several moments that threaten the whole venture, but the self-proclaimed ‘Australia’s Queen of Honky Tonk’ battled on.

I’m Wanita screens from Thursday 23 September at Luna Leederville, Palace Raine Square and Luna on SX.

Lezly Herbert

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