Here’s what we can learn from ‘amy,’ the amy winehouse doc

Asif Kapadia, director the new documentary “Amy,” didn’t set out to make a movie about late musician Amy Winehouse because he was a super-fan. In fact, quite the opposite was true.

“The project came to me. I was asked to do it,” Kapadia told MTV News during an interview in New York prior to the film’s release. When Universal came calling to Kapadia and producer James Gay-Rees to see if they’d be interested, Kapadia realized that Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning at 27 years old in July 2011, was both a girl next door character as well as a symbol of unattainable celebrity, all at once. The public spectacle of Winehouse’s demise, and the world’s role as audience and critic, fascinated him.

“I thought, yeah, actually, we all know the voice, she was great, this awful thing happened, I didn’t understand why it was happening, I didn’t understand why nobody stopped it, I didn’t understand why she was on stage in that state,” he said.

“And it wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, when she died. It felt like it was going to happen, which is like a really sad thing to think. And then it was kind of the context of where this story happened was where I live, down the road from Camden. And that made it something that I wanted to do, because it wasn’t just about her, it was about the world that I live in. Literally the city, the town that I live in. And therefore, it was also very present. It felt like it only happened a few months ago. That can be a problem; a lot of people felt it was too soon. But it felt like that’s why it should be made now; are we comfortable with the world we live in now? Are we comfortable with what we do with it? Are we comfortable with what we do to people like her?”

That’s the stirring question at the center of “Amy”: what have we done? Why didn’t we do more? The singer’s unraveling was public and prolonged, including multiple stints in rehab and even more displays of not-OK-ness: public drunkenness and drug use, distressing comments in interviews and unusual behavior during concerts.

Throughout the process of making the movie, which began about a year after Winehouse’s death, Kapadia said that interviewees would often remark that they didn’t think the film would ever be released. The truth would never come out about all the factors leading to Winehouse’s tragic end. Kapadia and his team had an agreement: “Either we do this film properly or we can’t do it at all, but we can’t do this film whitewash.”

“She died, we all saw it, we saw it at all her performances,” he said. “We know, that’s not a shock. The question is why, how. We felt we owed it to her, more than anyone. And I would say all those people that trusted me, all those people that spoke to me that never spoke to anyone else, and really opened up their hearts: we owed it to Amy and to them to say, to give them the voice because they felt individually they were not able to speak up.”

If there’s anything Kapadia wants audiences to take from the film, it’s to realize that this art that we hold dear has a real human at the other end, a human that needs to be treated with compassion.

“I think for the audience, we consumed it all, we took it all, believed it,” he said. “We clicked on the YouTube links and we listened to the comedians. We laughed a lot. And that was what happened at the end there: we realized we’re all complicit in this and nobody really stopped it, everyone joined in. And I think that, there’s the brilliance on one side, there was the brilliance of her and the kind of talent and the humor and the ordinariness, she was an ordinary kid, which I like, but on the other side of it is how we all played a part. I’m a bit of a dreamer, and the dream is that next time this happens we don’t let this happen again. We protect people. We don’t buy tickets to see someone thinking oh, it might be the last show they do because you’re going to die soon.”

“Amy” is now in theaters.