On Demand Weekly's Editor-in-Chief, Britt Bensen spoke with country musician Chely Wright about her documentary WISH ME AWAY (Gravitas), a personal and intimate look at the first country music star to come out as openly gay. WISH ME AWAY is now on demand. Here is our review.
On Demand Weekly (ODW): Can you tell our readers how the documentary came to fruition?
Chely Wright (CW): I decided in the summer of 2007 to come out. I knew I needed to do it well, so I began writing my book (Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer) and talked to my record label that wanted to put my record out. It was a two-pronged strategy to come out well and initiate an informed dialogue about people like me.
Chely Wright (Gravitas)
I met with Craig Karpel in his office and saw the movie poster for the film BE REAL (Logo). I had watched it with my shades drawn. It terrified and inspired me at the same time. It’s a documentary about people coming out. Everyday people.
I told Craig I love that film and he said I should introduce you to the filmmakers, the TV Gals (Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf). I met with them at their apartment in New York City until 2 in the morning. We really hit it off. They called me the next day and said we want to make a film about what you’re about to do.
ODW: What is the meaning behind the film’s title: WISH ME AWAY?
CW: You’d have to ask the filmmakers. I had no editorial control over the film, by design. They named it after a song of mine, WISH ME AWAY. I thought it was a horrible title because I thought it had a negative connotation. They said they like it because it is provocative and evocative and there’s a good portion of your life where you tried to wish and pray yourself away and there’s a portion of the world that would to wish and pray you away. In retrospect, I would have to agree with them.
ODW: Did your video diaries predate the film’s production?
CW: They (the TV Gals) knew about my video diaries, but they never asked to see them. I just knew that if I’m going to be all in, if I wanted people to understand what it’s like to navigate these waters of uncertainty and vulnerability, then I had to hand them over. Nine months after we began the film is when I finally brought them over to their apartment. They called me and said “holy crap, you’ve been holding out on us." They are the emotional narrative of the film.
ODW: Have you shot video diaries after the making of the film?
Chely Wright (Gravitas)
CW: Yes, I still do them. They’re as personal as the first ones. You hit the record button and you start talking. There is something so wonderful about the confidence that no one will ever see them. I have no intention of anyone seeing the ones I’m doing right now, but one never knows.
ODW: How did you first screen the finished film?
CW: One week before its first film festival, the TV Gals had me over to their apartment and we watched it together.
ODW: Have you watched it with a crowd?
CW: I think I’ve been to eight film festivals and I always watch it. There is a reason I do it. If I’m going to be most effective at the Q&A, I need to be on the same page emotionally with the audience. Hard to talk about something that emotional without getting in stride with them.
Chely Wright (Gravitas)
ODW: Has the reaction to the film been different between mainstream and LGBT film festivals?
CW: Not largely. Frameline at the Castro theater was heads and shoulders emotionally above the rest.
The subject matter really resonated
within the walls of the theater.
It was like a baptism for me.
Whether it is a universal film festival or LGBT, the emotional response from the audience is pretty on par. I know when people are going to clap and boo and yell and scream and cheer and laugh. Pretty consistent in its reception.
ODW: Since coming out publicly and the film’s release on June 1, what has been the reaction?
CW: My coming out 2 years ago was one wave and when people started to read my book I got a lot of correspondence and personal stories. I felt like I was turning the pages of my story.
And then the film festival circuit, I would hear. “I thought I was going to see a film about country music singer coming out, but I saw my life on screen.”
It’s not a country music coming out story.
It’s a collective shared story of anyone
hiding a significant part of themselves.
I have to say why I thought On Demand was so important for its release was that people who wouldn’t be inclined to go to a film festival that might be showing a LGBT themed film would see THIS film. I can’t tell you how many notes, emails and tweets I’ve gotten from people that say I just watched WISH ME AWAY and as soon as it ended I went downstairs and came out to my mom and dad. Or I had my sister over, queued it up and I came out. It galvanizes what my instincts were.
We really thought this was going to be a powerful tool for people who knew they wanted to see it and for people who never imagined they needed to see it.
ODW: What is your current status with the country music scene in Nashville?
CW: It’s still kind of unfolding. I’m reticent to say too much. People ask me in interviews and I will answer. It comes across like I’m complaining. I try to tell people I was asked. If I’m asked, I can give an answer.
The truth of the matter is the country music industry got really silent on me. They’d like to say I wasn’t really that big a part of the community, but I know I was. They know I was. They don’t know what to say.
ODW: Can a country musician have a successful career without the support of the country music industry?
CW: It makes it pretty hard. If you’re a banker and a bank won’t hire you, it makes it hard to make a living as a banker. That said, I make music and it lands where it lands.
Chely Wright (Gravitas)
It impacted my country music career, but it won’t impact my artistic endeavors. It’s not the only game in town. I’ll write and record the music that feels right to me. Real artists don’t make art because there is a vendor for it. Real artists do it because that’s what they do. That’s the language they speak. I’m confident that I’ll find my voice.
ODW: How has your writing been influenced by your personal journey?
CW: Prior to coming out, if I wrote a love song about someone, I couldn’t give a truthful account of how the song came to be. Now, I can say it is about my wife. Or I got this idea while my wife and I were on a walk. I was unable to tell the entire picture before.
ODW: Have you discovered a LGBT music community?
CW: No, I wouldn’t say that I have. I said in the film I hope to be accepted by the gay community and understood by the straight community and I want to find a place to belong. What’s most important is that I found I belong in many more communities than I imagined.
I do belong in the straight country music world.
I do belong in the faith community.
I do belong to hang out with a bunch of poets.
Chely Wright (Gravitas)
The most compelling thing that needed to happen, was I needed to relax in being me and I could find myself in Americana. I fit in everywhere. I needed to feel authentic within myself. I learned I’m really a quilt of a cross-section of people. And that’s good. That’s okay. There wasn’t some secret hidden trove of gay country music singers that gave me the secret knock and I got in the door. I found myself everywhere.
ODW: What do you think of releasing the documentary on demand?
CW: It’s the most exciting. My goal all along was to have this movie at the touch of the fingertips. It was my profound belief that people need to dial this at home when they’re ready to show it to a family member or someone they care about and share the discussion.
ODW: What do you watch on demand?
CW: It’s our way of life. My wife and I are busy like most Americans. If we miss our favorite shows, we go on demand, or if it is a rainy Sunday and have a day at home, we hit the on demand. It’s entertainment and education. It’s part of our life.
We watch “The Good Wife.” And we love cooking shows like “Iron Chef.”
We love movies. Lauren my wife will be surprised that I haven’t seen that movie? She’ll sit me down and show me a film so we can be on the same page. That’s the great thing about art. Be it music or film or a painting. When you love someone and you want your life to intertwined, you walk them over to the Met to view a Degas because you want to experience it with them. It’s the same thing with TV and film.
When I was a kid we were told don’t watch too much TV. It’s a waste of time, it’ll ruin your life. I have to say TV & film, especially as of late, has really enhanced my life. If I need to go get creative and I can’t think of what to write about, I go get my brain massaged by a great film or TV show.
ODW: What is next for you?
CW: Writing. I’m going to start recording within the next couple of months. Linda Perry and I recorded last year. We’ll probably do some more this year. And I am writing a screenplay. I enjoy storytelling.
Britt is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of On Demand Weekly. He is the former head of Affiliate Marketing and VOD for Sundance Channel. Prior to Sundance Channel, Britt worked for Miramax Films and BMI. He also on the Advisory Board of the Palo Alto Intl Film Festival.
CHELY WRIGHT: WISH ME AWAY is currently available on demand.
You May Also Like...