Hackney director’s film captures Amy’s raw musical genius

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse - Credit: Archant

Understanding the lyrics of once-in-a-generation talent Amy Winehouse was “a big revelation” for Asif Kapadia, who has directed a film about her tragically short life in which she effectively tells her life story through her music.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse - Credit: Archant

Six-time Grammy-winner Amy, who personally penned all her legendary hits like Back In Black and Rehab, died from alcohol poisoning in July 2011 aged just 27.

Kapadia, from Hackney, has put together a film about her life featuring never-seen-before archive footage and previously unheard tracks.

He said: “Something happened with Amy Winehouse and I wanted to know how that happened in front of our eyes. How can someone die like that in this day and age? And it wasn’t a shock; I almost knew it was going to happen. You could see she was going down a certain path.

“Amy emerged and became hugely successful and then died, but we didn’t know that much of the detail at the early stage,” added Kapadia, who also directed Senna which charted the story of acclaimed F1 driver Ayrton Senna.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse - Credit: Archant

Together with producer James Gay-Rees, they set out to start interviewing her friends and family who might shed light on the charismatic and very bright individual that Amy was.

But finding subjects proved a very difficult process, because her closest friends had taken a vow of silence after her funeral.

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Kapadia, who eventually interviewed 100 people who were close to her, realised he had to win their trust.

“It was all quite recent and painful for a lot of people and there was a lot of guilt and a lot of baggage,” he said.

Asif Kapadia

Asif Kapadia - Credit: Archant

“The whole experience took an awful lot out of all these people, understandably. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to see your closest childhood or teenage friend going through the perils of celebrity and mega-fame, knowing that there were underlying issues that would come to the fore.”

The interview process was an emotionally harrowing experience for all involved, and most people broke down.

“But because I wasn’t filming them, that helped,” says Kapadia.

“You don’t need to see that on a camera. The emotion is carried in the voice.

A breakthrough moment was when Nick Shymansky her first manager shared his early footage of her, which Kapadia felt shows “the girl that she really was”.

“You could understand how intelligent, special and also how ordinary she was. I knew I could make a film from just that early footage.”

Kapadia has combined this with her songs, which essentially became “the spine of the film”.

“Winehouse’s lyrics were invariably very personal,” said Kapadia.

“Some have suggested that her song writing was a kind of catharsis or therapy, in which she worked through difficult emotions.

“It was as simple as that. Once you understand her life and you read the lyrics, they run much deeper than you might have thought,” He added: “I thought, ‘All we have to do is unravel what these lyrics are about.’

“That for me became the big revelation – her writing. Everyone knew she could sing, but maybe people didn’t realise how well she could write. She wrote the music herself as well. The whole thing was her.”

“Just putting her lyrics on the screen lets people know that they might have danced to that song and maybe didn’t realise how personal the content really was.”