Entertainment·Video

Amy Winehouse documentary aims to set the story straight

Amy, the new documentary on the late British singing superstar Amy Winehouse, uses never-before-seen footage to uncover answers about her deadly decline in 2011.

'I wanted to make the film to get the answers,' explains Amy director Asif Kapadia

Asif Kapadia, the director of a new film on Amy Winehouse, describes the personal stories he found while investigating the talented yet tragic British singer. 3:16

The new documentary Amy aims to paint a personal portrait of Amy Winehouse that goes beyond the tabloid legacy left behind after the late British singer's death by alcohol poisoning in 2011.

After he directed the award winning documentary Senna, about late Brazilian Formula One racing car driver Ayrton Senna, Asif Kapadia was asked by Universal Music to direct a film that would show a fuller portrait of the troubled Back to Black singer.

"There were so many questions," Kapadia told CBC in a recent interview. "Like, why did it happen? Why was she on stage, why was she performing, why is everyone letting this happen? I wanted to make the film to get the answers."

Kapadia knew he'd have rights to her music and to extensive footage, but given that he and Winehouse were both from North London, he also felt his subject was close to home.

Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 of alcohol poisoning at age 27.
"Amy felt like the girl next door, he says.

Personal videos and memories

Kapadia conducted 100 interviews for the film, several of them with friends from Winehouse's teen years who allowed him to use their personal footage.

Their videos show a young Amy playing pool, attending birthday parties and just goofing around.

Amy Winehouse poses for photographs at HMV Oxford Street on January 15, 2004 in London. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)
"No one has ever seen any of this material on YouTube," Kapadia said. "That's why it's interesting. It's before Amy was famous. And it's personal," he says "I had no idea she was so funny. I had no idea she was this interesting, bright-eyed, charismatic girl in the early years."

He started the project without knowing this early footage even existed, then not knowing if he'd be allowed to include it in his film.

"The challenge of the film was to get people to trust me enough to hand over their personal memories of someone who is now no longer with us," Kapadia explained. "Someone who they saw was slowly dying and being humiliated and mistreated publicly, so those memories are even more precious to them."

In addition to revealing the real person behind the soulful Grammy winner, Kapadia hoped to explore why the enormously talented musician self-destructed at the tender age of 27, at the height of her career. 

Relationship issues

"You have this ordinary girl, with amazing talent," Kapadia said, who also touched on Winehouse's struggles with bulimia, depression and her contact with her parents.

Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil had a tumultuous relationship in which the two struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. They divorced in 2009.
"Then she has this thing about men and relationships. And then she has this manager who is trying to do the best for her, but she doesn't always listen to him."

Not to mention the drugs and the alcohol and the British tabloids pouncing on her every false move. 

As for her father's role in Winehouse's downfall, Mitch Winehouse has said publicly that he feels the film unfairly blames the family and him personally. 

But, as her hit single Rehab highlights, and as the film underscores, it was "daddy" who famously thought the troubled singer was "fine."

The director leaves the audience to draw its own conclusion.

Sang from her heart

Controversy aside, Tony Bennett, after his Body and Soul duet with Winehouse, compared her voice to Ella Fitzgerald's. However, it's the profoundly personal nature of her songwriting that left the biggest impression on Kapadia.

"All of these are real moments, real incidents, real people in her life that she documented and turned into songs. It's actually like a page from her diary, taken right from the heart and put out there."

A softer side of Amy Winehouse.
Amy opens July 10 in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto and July 17 in Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Victoria.

Watch highlights from our interview with director Asif Kapadia in the video above.

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