Oscar-winning Indian-origin British filmmaker Asif Kapadia is known for his documentaries on Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna (Senna, 2010) and singer Amy Winehouse (Amy, 2015). He called his latest, based on Argentine footballer Diego Maradona, “the third part of a trilogy about child geniuses and fame.” The documentary played out of competition at the recent Cannes Film Festival. Kapadia and Diego Maradona editor Chris King spoke about the power of archival footage, living with the legend every day for two years straight and whether the footballer ever analyses his past:
Asif, you had talked about the power of archival footage and you’d said that the worse it is, the more emotional the audience gets. What did you mean?
Asif Kapadia: I think I meant that sometimes footage may not look great but it was real because it happened and it was one person present and one camera present and so somehow emotionally, it works in a way. Even if it is shaky and slightly out-focused. For me, it works better than a perfectly framed, composed shot that’s been redone afterwards to fake it. Because I come from a fiction background, I used to be obsessed with trying to attain some form of perfection or framing. When we did Senna, there were certain shots that I loved that were shaky and all over the place but that’s him driving a car, that’s what it looks like, that’s what it feels like and the audience feels it.
“How many footballers have got, you know, skeletons coming out of the closet? (It happens) all the time. So what was unique about this?” asks Chris King
The film shows a much more positive image of him than I would expect. There’s been such a strong communication about his troubles but the focus here is really on showing him as conflicted human being.
Chris King: We spent 2 years living with Diego, every single day. You kind of form a relationship with this person that you’re making a film about. Asif went and met him obviously and spoke to him in person. From my perspective, it’s like having an acquaintance or colleague and one day they do something that you find distasteful and you have a bad feeling about them. So the relationship kind of ebbs and flows. For instance, we would come across the part of the film where he refused to acknowledge the paternity of his first son and you think, ‘I don’t like you actually. I feel you’ve behaved quite badly about this.’ So that only encourages us to think why he was doing that, what the circumstances were. And how many footballers have got, you know, skeletons coming out of the closet? (It happens) all the time. So what was unique about this? It’s always asking, what was unique about this? What does it say about his character? How do we get underneath that and understand him? Definitely by the end of it, I feel very warm towards him and have a lot of sympathy for him because I think he was the architect of a lot of his own downfall. But the circumstances of that city at that particular time and the pressure that he was put under would be tough for anyone to bear. So I came out of it definitely feeling very warm and it wasn’t a stretch – we weren’t portraying him as a good guy. I thought we showed the bad things that he did and the good things that he did and the mistakes and the wrong turns he took. I don’t think we shy away from any of that.
What’s his analysis of what happened? Because he is alive, we’re sort of expecting to hear him express some sort of view on the past.
Asif Kapadia: The thing with Maradona is…does he sit there and self-analyze? I just don’t think he worries about that. That’s not for him to do. He doesn’t do that, he hasn’t made a mistake in his life – Maradona is never wrong.
Chris King: He just keeps rolling, that’s all, and contends with whatever comes up at the time. I don’t think he looks back an awful lot. He gets asked about the past an awful lot, he’s got a lot of very stock answers about that because he’s very, very used to being asked about it. He delivers brilliant one liners to journalists, and they all lap it up and they love it. They’re funny.
“I sat there looking at Diego Maradona’s legs and I used to think, ‘My god, these legs are amazing. They’re like tree trunks.’ And I wondered if he’d mind if I just touched them,” says Asif Kapadia
What was the most remarkable moment that you had with Maradona?
Asif Kapadia: The first interview where I sat with my own sound recordist and there was a translator over there. The problem is every time he answered, he was answering to her (the translator). It was awkward. I had to somehow get him to talk on the mic. So I had the mic on the table and in the end, I thought the only way I’m going to get him to talk to the mic is if I sit on the floor, next to the mic. So he was there, I ended up sitting on the floor, at his feet. And I sat at the feet of Diego as he was talking and I don’t speak Spanish or Italian and that was one of the challenges so I was using the translator. And he was answering a question that I’d asked and I sat there looking at Diego Maradona’s legs and I used to think, ‘My god, these legs are amazing. They’re like tree trunks.’ And I wondered if he’d mind if I just touched them. I was like, ‘I really want to touch his left foot.'[ I’ve met famous people over the years and I’ve never had an urge to touch someone like I did to touch Diego Maradona. I literally forgot what his answer was and I asked, “Which of your legs did they break?” and I just grabbed his ankle. He doesn’t like being touched and he kind of pushed me off. He just has this charisma, he has something. Even now at 60, when his eyes are twinkling, he’s got something that people just don’t have. He’s a great footballer but he really has this energy. And every now and again, you see it.