REVIEW: I’m Wanita (Raindance 2021)
Obscure music documentaries might not be for everyone but they can certainly help shine a light on the music and personalities of those involved. Searching For Sugarman earned rave reviews on its release in 2012. I’m Wanita which receives its European premiere at Raindance Film Festival tells the story of Wanita, a middle-aged aspiring country singer from New South Wales in Australia living in the small country town of Tamworth. The film marks the feature debut of Australian film and television editor Matthew Walker.
The core of the film is focused on Wanita’s long term dream of cutting a Country record in Nashville. So late into her career the film posits the question of whether Wanita will make her dream a reality. While Wanita’s musical journey is of course the main focus of attention, her relationship with her husband and estranged daughter add some layers to Wanita’s character and show how her dreams have affected these relationships. Her relationship with her daughter is especially frosty.
Wanita’s personality can be at times grating, but she is unequivocally an upbeat and determined presence. Scenes where she has a fractious relationship with her manager Gleny Rae Virus in the middle of recording sessions show both her temper, but also determination – this is a real person after all trying to make her ambitions come true. At her heart, Wanita seems to be a caring person with good intentions, trying to support those around her who have helped her to try and get in the position she strives for.
What perhaps makes this film work better than other films of its type is how it makes its source material interesting. We genuinely come to care about this washed-up failed Australian country singer and those around her. In diving into her familial roots and trials and tribulations we come to understand her aspirations and the obstacles that have stopped her achieving the heights she so yearns for. There is a strong emotional heart at the film’s core.
This is Walker’s second attempt to chronicle Wanita’s journey, with the first being his 2015 short Heart Of The Queen. This show’s he clearly has a strong fascination with Wanita’s career and background. Wanita is certainly a perplexing individual describing herself as both dyslexic and autistic throughout the film. Archer – a busker who accompanies Wanita on her travels describes her as a “Drunken Mother Theresa”. We can deduce from archive footage and interviews with Wanita’s friends and family that she is well-known and loved within Australia’s country scene, but that her aspirations to make it on a larger scale have failed to take fruit.
The film takes a darker and slightly leftfield turn when it tackles her relationship with her husband Baba, the father of the man she went to Turkey to marry. Shockingly, Baba drives Wanita to work as a sex worker to cover her outgoings. While interviews with her daughter Elly May show that Wanita is far from perfect and may have failed as a mother, these are too short and scattered and perhaps contrast the film’s overall message.
The sequences that showcase Wanita’s claim to be the Queen of Honky Tonk are fun and show her stage presence and love of all things country. This is in many ways as much a love letter to its title character as it is for all that encompasses Nashville and country music. It includes trips to iconic attractions including Sun Studios – which was home to the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
I’m Wanita succeeds at painting its obscure source material in a positive light while showing cracks in her armour, she is a person both with strengths and flaws. It is to its credit that the film attempts a more rounded take on Wanita rather than just portraying her in a glowing fashion. It is a joyful celebration of her vibrant personality and her clear love of music and American culture, it is a well-constructed film that excels in giving a voice to Wanita. Hopefully the film will encourage audiences to seek out her music and show that it is never too late to follow your dreams.