Tina Whatley Chesnutt Responds to Documentary Director’s ‘Open Letter’

Last October, Ciné hosted a star-studded “rough-cut screening” of What Doesn’t Kill Me… The Life and Music of Vic Chesnutt, a documentary film directed by former Athenian and Chesnutt associate Scott Stuckey.

At the time, Stuckey and producer John “JoJo” Hermann told Flagpole they were unsure when the film would actually be released; rumors swirled that a rift between Stuckey and Chesnutt’s wife, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, was the reason for its delay.

In July, those rumors surfaced again when Stuckey posted a letter addressed to Tina Chesnutt on his Vic Chesnutt Facebook fan page. In “An Open Letter to Tina Whatley Chesnutt,” Stuckey said the late singer-songwriter’s wife was “unwilling to participate in the making of this film” and accused her of hampering the doc’s completion by “refusing us permission to release this documentary that Vic wanted so badly to be made.”

In an interview around the same time, Stuckey explicitly blamed Chesnutt for holding up the film, explaining, “Even though I own the footage, I need the rights from both her and the record companies to use the music.”

Now, Chesnutt has responded to Stuckey—whom she accuses of waging “a slander campaign against me”—in a lengthy and wide-ranging open letter of her own, which she has posted to her website, The Gravity of the Situation. Both a “short response” and a “long response” are available.

In her letter, Chesnutt reveals more details behind the dispute, including that she sent Stuckey a cease-and-desist letter “in response to the many horrific and malicious phone calls, emails and text messages you were sending to me, after an unprovoked and inexplicable fit of rage you suddenly had after I had dedicated eight months to working with you on your film.”

The letter also reveals that there was a disagreement over whether to hire another filmmaker to complete the project. [See update below.] In addition, Chesnutt alleges that Stuckey intended to create a media spectacle as a means for obtaining publicity for his film:

I think I was just enjoy spending the time with Vic so much that I was both looking for and trying to ignore all the red flags, the largest of which was that you kept referring to films whose filmmakers had very successfully used a grievance between the estate and the filmmaker as a means of getting publicity for their film.

The letter also addresses many of what Chesnutt feels are misconceptions about her relationship with her late husband. The entire, nearly 10,000-word document can be found on her website.

This drama unfolds as singer-songwriter and Chesnutt friend and collaborator Kristin Hersh swings through town to perform and read from her new book, Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt. Read our cover story Q&A with Hersh here.

UPDATE: Chesnutt clarifies this point in an email to Flagpole, explaining:

I had proposed hiring a professional filmmaker at the beginning of my involvement with the film but I never required one for my involvement… Mr. Stuckey’s sudden upset was not provoked by any disagreement between the two of us. To my best knowledge his sudden unexpected upset came after someone else suggested we hire a professional filmmaker. That person had not seen the film on which we were working, and was not a film industry person, so I did not understand why their opinion meant so much to him.


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