This interview was taken in October 2019. It is being republished in the wake of Diego Maradona's demise on 25 November, 2020.
Asif Kapadia, an Academy Award-winning British Indian filmmaker, is in India to promote his documentary on legendary Argentine retired football player Diego Maradona, that will release in the country this Friday on 11 October by PVR Pictures.
Kapadia rose to international fame with his previous two documentaries, Senna in 2011, that chronicled the life of the late Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, and Amy in 2015, on the career of the late British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. That makes Maradona the only living subject of Kapadia's documentaries.
Below is a quick chat with the director on what makes Diego Maradona different, the booming documentary scene in India, and whether his Oscar helped him consolidate his position.
Do you believe Diego Maradona is a part of the trilogy of documentaries, that also include Senna and Amy. What parallels do you see in the three lives?
Yes, the similarirties are both stylistic, in terms of how they're constructed, and thematic. They are all young, talented people who became very successful in some sphere of pop culture. They've all peaked, and then something sad happened to them. They fell off the pedestal they were on. But it wasn't a conscious decision to zero down parallels between the three subjects. I guess I'm interested in characters who are complex, anti-establishment, and flawed. They aren't necessarily the 'good guys'. They're controversial. I tend to seek out those people.
How is Diego Maradona different from your previous two documentaries? How does it reflect your growth as a documentary filmmaker?
You have to watch and tell me! I think it's technically more complex. It's dealing with a longer period of time. Senna lived till 34. He died young. Amy was only 27. Maradona is still going strong. So it's a life almost double as Amy's. It's a much longer life we had to compress into two hours. So we had to make some choices. We had to find a way to tell a story which essentially represents all of his stories. It's a different way of working. The opening and ending speed through time, and the middle slows down.
Was making the two sport documentaries more challenging or easier than making one on a singer?
None of them is easy. Haha! The biggest difference was Senna died about 13 years before I made the film. Amy died less than a year before I started making the film. It was raw. It was difficult because people were still mourning. Her story was more contemporary, more recent. Her friends, whom I interviewed for the documentary, were all young, and felt guilty they had some part to play in her suicide. It almost became therapy for them. It was time that made Amy difficult than the genre. With Maradona, we've gone back to the '80s. And since he is alive, it was much easier to talk to him directly, with obviously a translator present in the room.
You have also produced a documentary on Portuguese footballer Christiano Ronaldo. Did that experience come in handy while directing a documentary on another famous footballer?
Not really. There were a lot of producers on that one. And they all met Ronaldo, and agreed to collaborate on a documentary on his life. I'm not comfortable working that way. So I decided to interview or document what Maradona had to say instead.
Another experience that could have helped, though remotely, was directing a couple of episodes for Netflix crime thriller show Mindhunter Season 1. Was there anything you picked up then that you could use in Diego Maradona?
No, it's not simple as that. You learn things as you go through life via experience. But it's not like I can pinpoint what I learnt while working with (David) Fincher that I applied here. But that experience was cool! He's amazing. I had never done TV before. To learn from Fincher, and to try and direct in his style, was very challenging. But whether it's a documentary or a TV show, a director's job is almost the same. You need to tell the story. You need to move the audience. You need to imagine what's on paper visually, whether through archival footage or through recorded scenes. It's the same job there I feel, but in a slightly different form.
India won an Oscar for its documentary Period. End of Sentence last year. What do you feel about the booming documentary scene in India now?
I have to be honest. I haven't been much here lately. I have no idea. Why I'd say this is I'm quite old now. When I made my first film, The Warrior, at that time, people were confused whether it's an Indian film or a British film. It was something in between. And when I made Senna, people weren't much into documentaries. When I first came here, a documentary was put down. It wasn't considered a 'film' then. So I'm glad someone from here won an Oscar for a documentary. The wider the range, the more colours in the palette, the more positivity in the culture. Certain films should be musicals, and certain films should not. India has always had a wide range of cinema. It's great more people are thinking about making documentaries, especially in Mumbai.
Do you think winning an Oscar for Amy has made it easier to make your presence felt in the global market?
I'm sure it must make a difference to people. I'd say it hasn't made much difference to me as a person. I'm still the same, and I still work in the same manner. Winning an Oscar for Amy didn't make directing Maradona easy. It was still very hard! The biggest factor that comes to my mind was when we approached Maradona, he told us he's a huge fan of Senna. And when I won an Oscar while we were drafting the contract for this one, there was a picture on his Facebook with me holding an Oscar. And he said, "This guy just won an Oscar, and his next film is on me!" In that way, it helped to do the deal. Senna didn't win an Oscar. I really like that film. Amy did win one, but I don't like it more just because it won me an award. It's great I won an Oscar, but that shouldn't change me or the way I work.