Chronicling the rise and fall of soul revivalist Amy Winehouse in his documentary, Asif Kapadia explains why he chose an unusual narrative
Asif Kapadia’s documentary on late British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse’s life has received an overwhelming opening in the UK last week and is all set for a world wide release today. The British filmmaker of Indian descent whose first Hindi feature was The Warrior (2010), featuring Irfan Khan, has a string of award-winning documentaries to his name, notably The Sheep Thief in 1997 and his last film Senna in 2010. Rumoured to have drawn Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse’s ire who called the documentary “misleading,” Kapadia chose to brush this off as he stated that he had pieced the documentary together, after conducting more than 100 interviews. The director talks about what provoked him into making the film and the narrative style he’s adopted.
Would you have Amy if the record label hadn’t approached you?
Without the music it’s impossible to make this kind of movie so it would have been difficult to start interviewing people and then get the music. Because we had permission from Universal, we had the freedom to make the movie we wanted to make. The films Senna and Amy are like brother and sister, about two different sides of fame. They have a similar ending, but the subjects led very different lives.
What was the most important source of old footage
of Amy that you found?
It was Nick Shymansky, her first manager. He showed us the footage of Amy performing, of them hanging out, of her filming herself, her chatting with him and looking straight into the lens. We saw young Amy as bright and intelligent and funny, and it felt like we were hanging out with them.
Were you worried about not having enough
footage like that?
After Nick, it was her good friend Lauren [Gilbert] who brought the birthday party footage and things like that. Some came from Amy’s mother, but we had to rely on just a few sources, because there was nobody in that circle who was actually photographing her.
You managed to score interviews with all the major
people in her life. How did you gain their trust?
One by one, they all needed it more than I did. They needed to talk. For some people, it took a year. Other people, once we met, some of them had seen Senna and that helped.
Did you struggle with the fact that her body of work is pretty small? She only made two albums, “Frank” and “Back to Black.”
But she did these two albums by the age of 22 and touched all these people, from Questlove to Tony Bennett, so it’s a story about potential, and what she could have been if things had gone differently.
Songwriters often embellish and filter their lives through their
lyrics, but you used her song lyrics as autobiographical
She has a voice in the film because the songs are her at her most eloquent. In a way, we were making a musical about her, so the only way to do that is put the lyrics on the screen.