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  • Alex First

I'm Wanita (MA) - 88 minutes

What a woman! As the saying goes, they broke the mould when they created her.


Wanita likes to be known as Australia’s queen of honky-tonk.


In her late 40s, she’s autistic, a binge drinker, a smoker and a prostitute of 18 years who loves God.


She swears like a trooper and is kind and caring to all in need, especially the homeless.

Her relatively uneducated mother left her father when Wanita was 2½ or three years old.


It was at that tender age that her obsession with country and western music began.


Wanita ran away from home at 15 and made it to Tamworth at 19, where she has stayed.


Twice married, she has a grown daughter of her own, Ellymay, from whom she is estranged.

How she came to be with a Turkish man a quarter of a century older by the name of “Bubba” is a story in and of itself.


All this and much more is revealed in the warts and all documentary I’m Wanita.


Underpinning it is Wanita’s obsession with making it as a singer songwriter and that involves wanting to record in Nashville and, ideally, meeting her idyl Loretta Lynne.

None other than the winner of 22 Golden Guitar Awards Kasey Chambers calls her “a hell of a singer”.


But unlike Chambers, Wanita has never really succeeded with her singing career as she would have wanted to … and the question has to be asked “why not?”


The answer gets down to focus, or most specifically the lack of it, for she appears to be all over the show.


She is unashamedly an enthusiast who insists on doing things her way, but her renegade appeal also has a dark edge.


It is often difficult for those closest to her to work with her.


She can’t seem to concentrate on one thing for any length of time and, as we see some way into the picture, her drinking can be a curse.


Wanita does get her chance to travel to the US – to Sun Studios in Memphis, to work with jazz musos in New Orleans and finally to Nashville.


But let’s just say all doesn’t go smoothly.

The documentary charts Wanita’s meandering path, complete with interviews with family (Ellymay and devoted, but frustrated Bubba) and friends/fellow musicians.


They include a man named Archer, who becomes her “bagman” and a woman called Gleny Rae Virus, who doubles as her manager.


We also get to see and hear the raw Wanita.


I’m Wanita is shot fly-on-the-wall style by director Matthew Walker and is all the better for it. There appear to be no filters. The camera just keeps rolling. Even phone conversations are recorded.


For all her foibles, we desperately want Wanita to succeed and yet it is far from assured that she will.


In fact, far from it, for she can be spectacular and, alternately, a train wreck. Instability is her middle name. And that is why she is such a good subject for a documentary feature.

Wanita is unique, frustrating and talented.


If I’m Wanita was a narrative feature you’d say credibility was lacking. As a doco, it is utterly compelling.


Rated MA, it scores an 8 out of 10.