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Wish Me Away: Interview with Directors Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf

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by Melissa Silverstein
June 1, 2012 10:15 AM
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wish me way team

This is a repost of the interview I did at the premiere of the film last summer at Newfest in NYC.  The film opens in NYC today and is also available on demand.  Info here.

Women and Hollywood: How did you meet Chely and come to make this documentary.

Bobbie Berleffi: The way we met Chely was through a mutual friend in the business. Chely had seen a documentary of ours that aired on Logo called "Be Real" that had positive images of younger people from the LGBT community and she remembered it. We did not know who she was and she reached out to us through this mutual friend and we found out that she has been secretly doing private video diaries not knowing what she would do. She was thinking of writing a book and by the time she got to us we had listened to her music we were really intrigued but had no idea what she wanted. When she revealed she was going to be coming out we knew this kind of story is a kind of a once in a lifetime thing, and for us, as filmmakers even though we didn't know how the story would end we knew we had to be involved.

So we explained to her that this could be a documentary but it has to be an independent documentary and we explained that she really wouldn't have creative control and that we would be observing her process and she was OK with that and slowly we started to build a trusting relationship. She didn't give us all the video diaries until we had known her for about a year.

Beverly Kopf: We've been asked that question before and when I think back on it is seems more and more incredible there here was a woman who had been hiding for her whole life and had become so masterful at it. She just disconnects and that's how she was able to survive so she has this part of her that's very savvy because she's been in the public eye for 20 years. She started making video diaries and she would make a diary and never look at it again and then one day she turned over to us this treasure trove and didn't even know what was in them.

BB: And she never looked back and she never saw the film until January when it was finished.

WaH: How long did you work on the film before she came out?

BB: Almost two years.

WaH: Coming out is still such a big deal in Hollywood and Nashville. Why is that?

BK: I've worked in Hollywood most of my career and I remember I did a network news special called the gay 90s with Maria Shriver. It was groundbreaking at the time. She was fearless and she convinced NBC to do it, and I knew many people who I knew who were gay who were in the public eye in Hollywood. When I would contact their publicists and tell them this would be a wonderful opportunity for them they responded like I had lost my mind. It's complicated because these are people who others depend on for their livelihoods. The risks are high but Bobbie and I didn't know that country music was so homophobic. In Nashville it's not the people who are homophobic, it's the industry itself.

BB: You have to distinguish between the industry in Nashville -- the market image -- and the people who work in the industry. It's a hip industry and there are tons of gay people working in Nashville. But as far as high profile artists go, we couldn't get one to step forward to support Chely - not a single one and she's friends with a lot of those people -- because the audience that the people rely on for their paycheck is an audience that is Christian based and conservative.

BB: It was a big deal that we went to Nashville and showed the film. We had a sneak preview at the Nashville Film Festival and one of our co-executive producers who is a music industry executive down there helped bring in an industry crowd. It was an amazing night. They heard Chely's story in a new way. There had been gossip, but when they saw the film there was a whole different understanding.

WaH: Because I live in NY and am not a country music fan when I read about her story I didn't think it was a big deal. But when I saw the film and the role religion plays in her life I really understood the gravity of what she did especially the impact she could have on Nashville. I am wondering if you saw different responses from younger people to the film.

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