Award-winning filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf’s documentary Wish Me Away charts the emotional journey of country music star Chely Wright as she risks her career, family and image in an attempt to live an “authentic life” as an openly gay woman. Birleffi and Kopf, both professional and personal partners, spent three years on the film, which charts Wright’s “pursuit and rise to fame in Nashville, a hidden network of secrets and lies, her emotional unraveling and eventual rebirth.” Featuring interviews with Wright’s friends, family, confidants and industry insiders, the film also includes Wright’s private video diaries.
We visited the filmmakers at their Manhattan studio to discuss the process of making the film and working with Wright, why the documentary is relevant in today’s political climate, and their latest fundraising efforts to finish the film.
Heather Aimee O’Neill talks to filmmakers Beverly Kopf and Bobbie Birleffi
photo by Kelsey Dickey
AfterEllen.com: What was the genesis of Wish Me Away?
Bobbie Birleffi: We were introduced to Chely through our network and connections around our previous documentary, Be Real: Stories from Queer America, which aired on LOGO. The timing was right. We were looking for a new project and as we got to know Chely, she confided in us her thoughts about coming out. We were inspired and felt her story would be a perfect fit for our next film.
AE: Was it difficult to balance your developing friendship with Chely and remain objective filmmakers?
Beverly Kopf: It was challenging. We had to maintain our objectivity but at the same time we needed to establish trust with Chely.
BB: I’ve been making documentaries for over twenties years. Each situation is different. There are no rules, but I knew that our job as filmmakers was to protect the integrity of the film wherever that took us.
AE: Was Nashville receptive to your attempts to get interviews?
BB: We wanted to include the Nashville response to Chely coming out in our film. That’s a part of the story that you won’t find in Chely’s book or media interviews. We think you’ll find the response illuminating.
BK: It is curious that Chely is still the only country music star to ever come out. Don’t you think?
AE: I do. Speaking of which, does Chely’s music influence or play a part in the film?
BK: Our editor, Lisa Palattella, is an accomplished musician. You also have to remember that Chely is a songwriter, she’s an artist who speaks through song — so the music plays a major role in the film. Music is what allows her to think and reflect and absorb. Ironically some of her old music videos help us tell the story.
BB: Beverly and I studied Chely’s music, and were impressed by how her songs told important parts of her life. They are very much a character in the film.
photo by Tanya Braganti
AE: What role does Chely’s family play in the film?
BB: Chely’s family is important to her, so of course they are important to the film. By visiting her hometown in Kansas, we were able to capture Chely’s close bonds with her father and sister Jennifer, as well as her angst about a complex and troubled relationship with her mother.
AE: I imagine her family went on their own journey with her very public coming out.
BK: The film captures the evolution of her family as they grow and change their perceptions of what it means to be gay. They speak for themselves honestly and they don’t always agree.
AE: What about the men in Chely’s life during those closeted years? Does the film tackle that?
BB: All we can say is that you’ll learn about Chely and men from a variety of viewpoints.
AE: What can you tell us about the exclusive clip you’ve shared with us?
BB: Let me give you the context for the clip. This was a party thrown 72 hours before Chely came out on national television. Chely was fragile. She looks like a bird, she’s very thin. That moment when she came in, she was really surprised. You see that kind of spontaneous vulnerability throughout the film.
International viewers can watch the clip here.