Asif Kapadia: “I wanted to understand who Amy Winehouse was”

Asif Kapadia: “I wanted to understand who Amy Winehouse was”

CStar is programming a special Amy Winehouse evening this Friday evening.

The channel benefits from the release of Back to Black to devote his evening to Amy Winehouse via documentary Amy, from director Asif Kapadia. It was released in 2015 in cinemas, and we met its creator to talk about this last tribute to the singer who died prematurely on July 23, 2011.

This broadcast also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna: who died precisely on May 1, 1994, the racing driver had the right to a reference portrait by the same filmmaker, in 2011.

First: How did you go from Senna has Amy ?

Asif Kapadia : The director of Sony Music loved Senna and he came to me to ask me to make a doc about Amy. Senna was a legend. And I love sports. Amy is a Londoner, a girl I could have met in my youth; I could have gone to school with her, met her on a bus. What interested me was to start from the beginning and see how it exploded. What had really happened? She was someone like me or like my friends, a girl who became famous, too quickly, too hard, because she was great. But at some point, everything broke. To answer your question, there happens to be a direct connection between Amy and Senna. Nick, his first manager who we see in the film, and his girlfriend were walking down the street in London a few years ago. It was raining. They took shelter in a cinema and entered a room. Nick insisted on going to see Senna who was playing. They cried watching the film and left the cinema emotional. He then said to his girlfriend: “it would be great if someone made a film like that about Amy”. Two years later, I contacted him because I was starting my research on Amy and he told me: “normally I would have said no. I refuse all interview offers. It’s too painful, too tiring, too stressful, but since this happened to me, as I would love for someone to take a beautiful portrait of Amy, I would like to meet you”

This is the first witness you met?

No, I had already met people from the industry. But Nick was the first person to give me the key to the film. I didn't want to make a film about celebrities talking about her, about Amy. I wanted to understand who she was, to get into her privacy, into her head. Collect personal things from her.

Why did you call the doc? Amy ?

Because that's the point.

But why Amy and not Winehouse ? Vyour previous film was called Senna and not Ayrton.

It's really a funny question… But probably to clearly demonstrate that you had to enter into your privacy.

Senna was built on the Prost/Senna rivalry. How did you structure this one?

Songs. When I found out that she wrote her songs and put so much of herself into them, I knew that was the key to the doc.

It's not really a discovery…

For me yes. I did not know. I didn't know much about her in reality and that allowed me to operate on instinct, without doing too much research. I have his records, like everyone else, but I never saw him live and I didn't know much about his environment. Maybe it's just that I'm lazy, but I never start a documentary by researching. I just talk to the people around…

Documentarians usually develop an obsession, do a lot of work upstream….

Not me. It would bother me to write a doc on a subject that I know by heart. On the contrary. When I don't know anything, I'm in the spectator's shoes, and I learn lots of things while doing it. And what I find interesting, the spectators may find interesting too. If it works ! I have no agenda, no preconceived ideas… Nothing. Just the facts and videos.

But the trouble is that we already know everything about Amy Winehouse! She's a tabloid star.

You think ? Because you know the ending. But no one knows its beginnings. Did you know she wrote her songs?

Um yes.

And what was Rehab talking about? And did you know his album Franck?

Like a lot of people.

I don't think so, but that wasn't what the doc was about anyway. What interested me was to see what leads to his death. How we get there.

And what do you think killed him?

I don't know. Many things. Her problems, the industry, the lack of love…. But I know what could have saved her. I think jazz could have saved her. That filming in small venues would have protected her. Sing what she wanted to sing. That's what the film is about. About that and the problems that killed her. We all have problems in life (credits, breakups, etc.) but she died from them because she never resolved them and the industry probably exploited her too much.

We have the impression of witnessing an industrial murder.

There are lots of factors. Music is a complicated business. While doing this document, I realized something very strange. In cinema, when you make a film, there is a person whose role is to help people on set. To check that everything is going well. He's the assistant director. The director, the actors, the producers all have specific missions, but that of the assistant is really to protect people. In music, this profession doesn't exist and I think that says a lot about this industry. The other thing that struck me was his death and the way the media treated it. It's weird to make his disappearance so cool. A journalist dies at 27 and no one will think it's cool! It's stupid, sad. Not cool. The industry staged his death in a filthy manner. In my doc, I never wanted to make it cool. Because he was a complex, fragile personality who could not cope. Her relationship with her parents, her boyfriend, her anorexia… Amy's life was busy and she didn't resolve everything.

Amy: The director defends his “honest and respectful film towards Amy Winehouse”

You almost play the role of a psychologist…

No way. But the heart of the matter is this talented girl who can't be happy and who burns out. The subject of the film is that, and love. The one she hasn't received, the one she would like to give, the one she's waiting for… Her songs only talk about that.

Did you ever want to focus on creating Back to Black?

We are talking about it.

From afar. Amy is not really a documentary on his music in fact

But if. If not, what is the film about?

About a little Jewish girl who fails to manage success and love and who ends badly.

But if I had made a doc on Back to Black it wouldn't have made a good film. The person she is when Back to Black comes out is not the real Amy. You're wrong if you start there, or if you only talk about that. You have to understand it and for that, you have to go back a little before. I didn't want that Senna or a sports film. And I didn't want Amy or strictly speaking a film about music. It's about an artist. It's a film about art. It wasn't about celebrating Amy. I wanted us to discover the real Amy. With some good performances, some bad ones.

No more bad ones!

There are some very beautiful pieces, sublime performances. But part of his career, the end, was a failure…

The ending is very procedural. Drugs, alcohol, rehab… you multiply the nightmare scenes.

Because everyone knows that. We know two things about Amy Winehouse. It's a singer. And she died as we know. Suddenly, I could content myself with factually documenting the end of his life. The real revelation is that before she had been happy. A lot of people were crying at the beginning of the film because they discovered that she had been funny, clever, provocative but in the good sense of the word. Many viewers thought she was a bit stupid and would screw things up. The emotion of the film comes from change. From the gradual slide from happiness to unhappiness.

You quote the tabloids a lot at the end, you highlight them, you even use flashes to give rhythm to your film. You weren't afraid to pour in there?

I hope I avoid that aspect. That I am never in exploitation. The tabloids allowed me to contextualize, to explain what was happening. I've seen a lot of things much worse than what I left in the film. Horrible, vile stuff. But I didn't keep them. Out of respect for her. I just hope I was respectful.

Trailer ofAmy :

Our Review of Amy

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