Backstage Interview: Documentary Feature Amy

Q. Hi, gentlemen.  Congratulations on your win tonight.  What has been the most surprising reaction for you from this documentary once you got it out there?

A. (Asif Kapadia)  I just think what’s happened is the kind of perception of Amy has changed.  A lot of people, particularly in the U.S., I have to say when I first met people and talked to them, they almost summed Amy up in one word:  She’s a train wreck.  And the biggest thing has been now people think of her in a very different way.  They realize she was an amazing talent, she was so clever, she was beautiful.  She was healthy, she had friends, she had people who cared for her.  There’s so much more to her.  And actually most people say they just wanted to give her a hug, they just wanted to give her some love.  And that’s great but sadly she didn’t get necessarily all that love when she was around but now I think there’s a much better feeling people have about her, so that’s what I’d say.  That’s the big change, in my opinion.

Q. Amy Winehouse’s father as you know has been active on Twitter criticizing the film and you guys.  And what would you say now that the film has won an Oscar?

A. (James Gay‑Rees)  I think at the end of the day, just to reinforce what Asif said, that at the end of the day the film is about Amy, and you know what, she became a bit of a punch bag, she became a bit of a bad gag in the press and this film has opened people’s eyes to her again.  And people now understand what a great talent she was and they’ve remembered that.  And that’s what our job was.  Our job wasn’t to blame anybody up, our job was basically to tell people how great Amy Winehouse was.  And I think we’ve done a little bit of that and I think that that should be enough.

Q. Guys, huge congratulations.  I’m thrilled for you both.  Can I ask you, I believe I’m right in saying that you’re looking at Maradona as the subject for your next film.  What’s the interest in Maradona?  How do you think that story is going to compare to these last two films that you’ve made which are both about public figures?

A. (James Gay‑Rees)  So there’s ‑‑ we made a film about Ayrton Senna, the racing driver who was this incredibly confident and talented guy who knew how to deal with the pressures of fame.  We made a film about Amy Winehouse who didn’t have any of the skills to deal with the pressures of fame.  And the great thing about Diego Maradona is that he’s one of the most talented people who has ever walked the earth.  He shouldn’t still be here because he’s such a crazy maniac, but he is still here.  So it’s a film about a survivor against all the odds, basically.

Q. So Amy had such a wonderful life but ended with tragedy.  When did you know you wanted to set up this kind of a tone to encourage people to know more about her and when do you know it’s a good time to put an ending to the story?

A. (Asif Kapadia)  I mean, the film began almost a year after Amy had died, so it was quite soon.  And it took about three years to make.  And so I never met Amy, I never saw her perform live, I didn’t know her personally, but she was a local girl.  I’m a north Londoner, she lived very close to where I lived.  The story was going on almost down the street.  So the opportunity came along and we just started talking to people and doing research and once we started doing research we realized there was a different story.  She was a different person to the one that everyone thought they knew.  People seemed to think, oh, yeah, I know who Amy Winehouse is.  I’ve seen her on TV, I’ve seen her in concert, she’s a mess.  But actually what we kept hearing, from her friends, was if you’re going to make this film you have to show the real girl, you have to show the real Amy.  And that became like the mission, that’s what we tried to do.  And for me this is as much a film about London, this is a film about where we live, this is a film about now.  A lot of journalists that interviewed me when we made the film were the people that met and interviewed Amy.  So a lot of it is about, this is a story about the entertainment business, it’s about the media, it’s about journalism as much as it is about her as an artist and a singer and a writer and everything like that.  So it kind of came by accident, it came along and then it became a bit of an obsession to try to do our job as best as we could.

Q. Taking it to a broader step.  Those of us who cover entertainment know that there are too many stories like this, somebody with extraordinary talent, extraordinary potential who is perceived as a train wreck and in some ways along with the good qualities was a train wreck.  Do you see this as a cautionary tale to go beyond just Amy’s story?

A. (James Gay‑Rees)  I think absolutely, I think it is too common, as you say.  It’s been going on a long time.  Some stories are written and some of them I think are preventable.  There’s a guy who won this award in 2013 called Malik Bendjelloul for SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN.  And when these characters come along and they’re very talented but very vulnerable, they need more love and attention, whatever the issues are at hand.  But I think just as a society on a micro and macro level we just have to work harder to try and protect those kids.  Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.  So it is a cautionary tale just because I think the way that the society is evolving and the media is evolving, everyone wants a headline, everyone wants to try to paint a train wreck as quickly as they can.  There’s a cost to that sometimes, and I think the pressures that are sort of attendant with modern fame are so great that we need to step back sometimes and think, you know, these are people’s lives.  Especially young kids who are supremely talented but don’t have the time to really develop into well‑adjusted people sometimes.

A. (Asif Kapadia)  I’ll just add one thing, which is that part of the aim of the film was to kind of tell Amy’s story and to kind of understood who she was.  For me when I started learning about her and seeing her, I kind of fell in love with her and I really cared about her and I wanted the world to see the real girl.  But what I found also is that the film became about everyone else and how complicit we may have been, however large or however small, in the way we portrayed her.  In the way we talked about her, the way we commented, things that were online that were easy to do about people who may be in a bad way when actually it’s all a cry for help.  They’re waiting for someone to come in and look after them and protect them and save them.  And I think that was part of the mission of the film was just next time maybe to get people to think before they put that horrible nasty tweet or whatever you write or whatever you say about someone.  That’s what I was hoping.  When I Googled her at the beginning of the film all I saw were awful images of Amy.  Nothing to do with the actual article.  But they picked a horrible picture of her to go with something.  Now when I Google Amy, at least I see some nice pictures, because she was actually quite beautiful and quite healthy for a long time.

Q. Documentary is a category in the industry that’s often overlooked in discussions of gender and racial diversity.  What can documentarians do to draw more attention to that issue among their peers?

A. (Asif Kapadia)  The Welshman.  I think if you look at the winner that just came through here and you look at the filmmakers, I think it’s one of the genres that is actually quite diverse are the documentary sections.  But all we can do is do our bit.  I’m from an Indian background, my background is Muslim, I’m from a working class background in North London.  I didn’t grow up in the film business, I didn’t know anyone in the film business.  And so all I can do is do my bit and kind of be diverse.  What I would say to you is to ask those questions to the white people that come up here, not just the brown people, because or else that might make someone racist.  So ask the diversity questions to everyone and yourselves and your bosses.  How many brown people in this room?  A few here, but over there not many.  So that’s kind of a thing for everyone, I would say.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s