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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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BK: That's interesting that you asked that. When we were making this film we hoped that the gay community would get behind it but we were making it for a mainstream audience. We are screening it in Birmingham, Alabama at the end of August. You can't change Nashville until you change the audience that they are marketing to.

BB: We had a private tastemaker screening a couple of months ago in Denver, CO sponsored by an evangelical church that accepts gays and lesbians. Rev. Mark Tidd of the Highlands Church is phenomenal. They just soaked the film up as if it were blood for their veins and it was mostly younger people. I think we are still at the very beginning of what we are going to learn about who responds to the film. We are still at the film festival stage and we are looking for theatrical and TV and DVD distribution.

WaH: It's been a year since Chely came out and if I am correct Nashville has turned its back on her.

BK: Rodney says it best in the film - she's been iced out and has lost a lot, not all, of her country music fans. She has not been invited to anything in Nashville at this point in time. Her career is moving in a different direction, more in the singer songwriter direction and it's a very interesting moment for her career because many gay people and non-country music fans have never heard of Chely so she has to build a new audience.

BB: I think it's a great time for her because as much as she lost a genre she is now stepping into a new one and it remains to be seen what kind of music she now writes. She's writing new material. The activism she has done across the country has been incredible.

BK: And she's getting married in August. She's like a sponge and now has this feeling of being free to be herself. We've watched her blossom over the last year. It's been incredibly gratifying for us. And now she is coming back to her music and we're excited to see where her career takes her.

WaH: What do you want people to come out of the film thinking about?

BK: First of all we want their hearts to be opened. When we first started this Bobbie wrote on a card "people will open their hearts" when they see this film. We put that card of our work desk and we would constantly look at it. When we see audiences come out of the film their hearts have been opened and they have been moved.

BB: They come out and they say wow, I thought I was going to see a coming out story and that isn't just a coming out story. It's a story about hiding and every single person -- I don't care who you are -- is hiding something. And it does take its toll. And it does prevent you from living your life to the fullest. That's the universal part of the film.

WaH: What was the hardest part of making the film?

BB: Her mother was always an issue. As filmmakers we had to fight for it because we knew it was an important part of the film. In a portrait like this there is always a delicate balance between access and the truth. We fought for the integrity of the story and knew that her mother would be important and it was really hard. Chely is like many gay people who do not and will never have the full support of their family.

BK: The other tough part is that Nashville is a very small and closed community. Chely feared that if she told Brad Paisley then everyone would know and she was terrified of that happening. So when we were filming and even when someone signed a non-disclosure agreement every time we revealed her identity we didn't sleep that night because there was one more person who knew the secret. When she came out everything started to kick in, but the year we were filming was hard on all of us because once she got her book deal everything had to wait until the book came out because it was an orchestrated campaign. But it really came together and we are really grateful.

WaH: What advice do you have for filmmakers?

BB: I think it is really important for women filmmakers when they can, to tell stories about women as much as they can and get those stories of women out into the mainstream because I see our history disappearing.

WaH: How has the film changed your life and your work?

BB: It gave me a ton more confidence because a feature doc is a huge animal and it gave me confidence in my own judgement and in the filmmaking process and of taking risks. Every single thing we did was a huge risk. It doesn't seem like that when you watch the movie but for example the time when she is talking to Welton Gaddy her spiritual adviser, that's the first time they ever met. It was important to us to capture that because we knew they would talk to each other in ways that were foreign to us.

BK: For me, I am more a writer and this was the first time I felt that I could take a directing credit. I think that anytime you accomplish something that you didn't think you could do and you do it it just takes you to a new level in your life. It's a great lesson.

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