Expanding on his 2015 short documentary Heart of the Queen, director Matthew Walker lets his subject Wanita Bahtiyar shine in his first feature film. Australia’s self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Honky Tonk,’ Wanita fills the film with an energy that makes I’m Wanita much more than a biographical documentary. This feeling solidifies when we learn more: her difficult childhood, current unrealised dreams, struggles to find stability in life as a sex worker. All punctuated by the difficulty of living with autism for 45 years.
Her determination to be recognised for the talent she knows she possesses is incredibly inspiring. Her incredibly stubborn self-belief manifests as an opportunity to record an album in Nashville, the home of country music, with some big names of the genre. Wanita seizes what she perceives as her last chance to fulfil a lifelong dream, turning the film into a road-trip that follows her exploits in New Orleans and finally Tennessee where she plans to record her third album.
What drives the film are the multiple threats to success and the fact that nearly all of these come from Wanita herself. She has the tendency to burn bridges and her mood swings often perplex those around her. The latter can be especially toxic in a recording environment, and her manager and a friend travelling with her rightly express their worries about her drinking.
Initially expressing doubts about her dream, worried it was all a delusion, Wanita’s renewed persistent refusal to quit keeps the flame of hope alight. This sense of possibility, both of incredible failure or great success, lends a sense of dread that looms over almost every scene.
It becomes hard not to root for the proverbial underdog whose larger than life personality elicits empathy. Although this is Wanita’s story, it is one that represents countless musicians who have suffered to create their art. One does not even need to be a musician to relate to her plight as the themes in the film are universal.
Walker has created a documentary where the dramatic emotional twists rival any work of fiction. Wanita’s flaws are as clear as her once in a generation voice. Her eccentric energy and approach to life and music culminates in an engaging and unique story that only she could be the centre of.