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Asif Kapadia on his infamous Amy Winehouse biopic and new film ‘Diego Maradona’: “He’s done a lot of dark, heavy stuff”

The celebrated filmmaker, who also helmed 'Senna', returns this week with the final part of his 'loose trilogy' of documentaries

He is a very grey, shady figure – and not less so for having met him.” Asif Kapadia is reclining in his seat, deep in reflection over his meetings with the controversial, one-time footballing god Diego Maradona: the playmaker who scaled the vertiginous heights of sporting superstardom only to find the land of plenty around him too enticing to resist.

Maradona’s penchant for the white stuff is well-known, but the film also explores his womanising and questionable associations with the mob. His staggering achievement in elevating Napoli from Italian football’s underclass to a major force in Europe is seemingly only really matched by the sight of him refuse to accept paternity of his own son.

Hackney born Kapadia is sat with NME to discuss his film Diego Maradona, the concluding chapter of a self-proclaimed ‘loose trilogy’ of documentaries that also feature Senna and Amy. The latter created a cause célèbre of its own, lest we forget, whenAmy Winehouse’ father Mitch decried the Academy Award-winning film as“negative, spiteful and misleading” despite participating in its making.

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“With Amy, the intention was to make an honest film about her”, the filmmaker now recalls. “People did what they did. They said what they said. I wasn’t making it up. I just showed what happened.”

We get to Amy Winehouse in more detail in due course, but focus firstly on the man whose ‘Hand of God’ broke English hearts in the ’86 World Cup and whose superstar alter-ego appears to have booted his former wide-eyed, innocent self into touch for good.  Much like the beautiful game, it would appear that Maradona’s life is also a tale of two halves.

What is your personal opinion of Maradona the man?

“The guy has done a lot of dark, heavy stuff that I just can’t agree and be comfortable with. There were moments when I thought: ‘Why are we putting all this effort into someone who is sometimes not a very nice guy?’ But then I just had to remember that who he is after our film isn’t who I’m making a film about. The guy that arrives in Naples is quite a sweet and vulnerable character who has no idea what he’s getting himself into. He did not want to end up the way he leaves.”

Maradona emerges as a somewhat elusive figure, doesn’t he?

“No one has ever got to him to talk like we have. We picked this period of his life because this is when he became the best footballer in the world and this is also when all his problems began. Everything that happens to him after is a consequence of what happened in Naples. Some people may feel that we haven’t quite nailed him, but I don’t think he is a simple figure to pin down.”

Is it true that you have previously stated the belief that things start to go wrong for Maradona when he denies paternity of his son?

“I think so. You can see that the light has gone in his eyes. And it happens to coincide with him winning the World Cup. I spent a lot of time looking at footage of him and there’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ that World Cup. There is this moment where you can see he has these youthful, bright eyes, and then he becomes a bad liar and shady: one lie builds on another.”

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona

Your witnesses in the film juxtapose this idea of the old ‘Diego’, the poor boy from the shantytown and, as his fame grows, an emergent superstar alter-ego ‘Maradona’. Who did you meet? Is ‘Diego’ dead now?

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“There was concern that the person I was meeting was not the person I was making the film about. That person has gone. A lot of people who have known him for a long period have said that. I flew out to meet him and I thought, ‘I don’t know what’s left’, but when you meet him he has his really charming moments, and moments where you can see he still has his charisma: the light is in his eyes… but he’s not the guy that was there in the ’80s.”

What are your reflections upon Amy now that the dust has settled?

“I hope we changed opinions about her and that people understand what her songs are about in a very different way to before. When I hear her music now it’s quite an emotional thing. I feel this weird connection to the music and to her.”

How are your relationships with the people that you spoke to in the film?

“A lot of the people were not in a good way when I first met them – they were suffering due to what happened to Amy. They were not able to move on with their lives. I think that the process of making the film really freed them. They felt the truth and that the real Amy came out. That’s one of the good legacies of it: they’ve come out the other end. I’m friendly with some of her friends and also her first manager now. That’s a nice thing.”

What about her father, Mitch? He took against the film when it was released. Have things healed there?

“I don’t know.”

Have you spoken with him?

“No.”

There must always be a risk when you make a film like Amy that someone might take exception against what you do.

“With Amy, the intention was to make an honest film about her. My job was to tell the truth and show what happened. People did what they did. They said what they said. I wasn’t making it up. I just showed what happened.”

What do Amy, Senna and Diego Maradona say about fame?

“In a way, I think there’s a bit of a warning about childhood stars. All three get famous very young. They have this gift. A lot of it is do with how they then deal with fame.”

Diego is still alive, but both Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse have passed away. Where do you think Senna would have ended up?

“What people always said about Senna was that because of the state of Brazil he’d probably have ended up as a politician. Hopefully, he’d be the same kind of guy trying to make the world a better place. But you never know how people turn out when they get older.”

And Amy?

“If she’d could have found a quiet life away from Camden, away from London and was still writing songs, I think that being a songwriter for others: putting together her intelligence and her skills as a writer without having to be the performer would have been a good thing for her.”

Politically, things are a mess. Have you ever thought of chronicling a politician or getting directly political?

“I’m thinking that I might do something like that next. It feels like it’s time to do something about the state of the world. I think we’re at the stage where if we don’t do something it’s going to be too late.”

– Diego Maradona is in cinemas from Friday (June 14).

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