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TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Aaron Harris  /  AP
Dixie Chicks, from left: Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison pose for photographers at a press conference for the film "Dixie Chicks - Shut Up and Sing" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sept. 13.
updated 9/13/2006 5:22:11 PM ET 2006-09-13T21:22:11

The Dixie Chicks may be playing to smaller crowds than before the furor over their criticism of President Bush. Yet the trio said Wednesday there’s a new sense of loyalty among the fans who do show up.

“We’ve basically been playing to about half the audience as on the last tour, but it’s a different audience. They just look good,” band member Martie Maguire told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the documentary “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing” premiered.

“We feel like they’re there for a reason,” continued singer Natalie Maines, who caused a backlash after she told a concert crowd in 2003 that the group was ashamed Bush came from their home state of Texas.

“In the past, I think we always thought, oh, we have a purpose to entertain them and they were there to absorb that and soak it up and be entertaining. They bought their ticket,” Maines said. “Now you feel like they feel they have a purpose, supporting free speech and supporting us.”

The rough road to free speech
Directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County, U.S.A.”, “American Dream”) and Cecilia Peck, the documentary chronicles Maguire, her sister Emily Robison and Maines’ transition from country darlings to bold symbols for freedom of expression. The film opens in theaters in October.

Slideshow: Ready, set … Toronto Maines’ remark was tossed off as a lighthearted jab at Bush during a London concert, the crowd greeting it with cheers and applause. But in the United States, the band was assaulted by talk-show conservatives, radio stations dropped their songs, fans boycotted their latest hit album, and protesters rounded up their records in garbage cans.

Their album plummeted on the charts. Demonstrators carried posters of Maines with an “X” over her mouth. One protester in the documentary suggests Maines should be strapped to a bomb and dropped over Baghdad.

While the women do plenty of hand-wringing over how to respond, they do not hesitate to fire back; the documentary includes footage of their photo shoot for an Entertainment Weekly cover in which their bare bodies have been covered with such slogans as “Traitors,” “Dixie Sluts” and “Saddam’s Angels.”

“They’re from Texas. They’re supposed to be these women that people have put a box around, and here are these incredible all-American girls coming out and making a statement and not backing down from it,” Kopple told The Associated Press in an interview.

‘It turned us into women’
The film presents the women as an unbreakable sisterhood, rallying together with tenderness, humor and obstinacy. Maguire says she senses Maines blames herself for the group’s problems and breaks down in tears as she declares she would give up her career for the singer to be happy and at peace.

Maines and Maguire are on hand for the birth of Robison’s twins, and the film captures homespun, amusing portraits of the women with their husbands and children.

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The heart of the film is behind-the-scene strategy sessions over how to respond to the fan backlash and what direction their new album and subsequent tour should take.

Through it all, the unity among the women never wavered as they recorded the more rock-edged album “Taking the Long Way,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and includes the defiant single “Not Ready to Make Nice.”

“It’s a very real look at how three women survived that and grew stronger and their bond of friendship deepened, they grew as artists and made an incredible album in the midst of this political firestorm,” director Peck said.

The Dixie Chicks said the film captures their growth as performers bonding through adversity, something that would not have happened had their career continued with monster record sales and sellout tours.

“It turned us into women, I think,” Maines said. “One thing that surprised me in watching it is watching my own maturing right before my eyes.”

“We all say we’d never change a thing,” Robison said. “Obviously, things happened that were not fun to go through, but for the most part, when you’re coasting along, a tour is going great and you’re happy, I don’t think you have that kind of ability to really soul search. And going through that gave us that opportunity. It’s brought us much closer together.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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