Asif Kapadia was born in north London and made his name with 2001’s The Warrior, his first feature picture. In 2010 he produced the film Senna, chronicling the life of Formula One racer Ayrton Senna. Amy Winehouse Portrait Amy (2015) and Diego Maradona Portrait Diego Maradona (2019). The Me You Can’t See, 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, and Mindhunter are some of Kapadia’s television projects. At Sheffield DocFest this month, he is serving as a guest curator.
After growing up on television, I went on to study filmmaking. Movies are usually my references while I’m making a film, and that’s why I called Senna “Sunset Boulevard” since it’s narrated by someone you don’t realize is dead until the very end.
Film festivals are as much a part of my life as films themselves. Without festivals, I wouldn’t be where I am now. In the Edinburgh Film Festival bar, I sold my producer the idea of producing The Warrior, and he agreed. In an app, you don’t get that!
It’s almost like a self-portrait of your Sheffield collection, which includes films on sports, music, politics, and London.
There’s a purpose behind every single film’s inclusion. Asif Kapadia remember watching [Patrick Keiller’s] London and not understanding what it was: poetry, and this figure travelling around town, walking through Stoke Newington, where I lived at the time. The thought that this city I’d always wanted to live in had an underclass living under the streets made me weep in Dark Days [Marc Singer’s film about New York’s homeless population]. Some of them directly impact the movie I’ve done, the most prominent example being Leon Gast’s film When We Were Kings, which documents the 1974 Ali-Foreman fight.
A significant part about Stevie Wonder was cut because we could not fit it as we had envisioned. Regardless, the number of performers that released albums that year is astounding. “Well, this year was better,” anyone? That’s great — it’s a discussion starter.
Mindhunter, a series about FBI agents pursuing serial murderers, included some of your work as a director. What was it like to work on a program where David Fincher and writer Joe Penhall set out the overall strategy?
Great time. My interview subjects for the film were those who had been in Amy’s immediate vicinity and may have been held accountable for her death, and that was my takeaway when I met David. Mindhunter’s protagonists do just that: they visit the scene of death and speak with the survivors to get the truth about what transpired and prevent it from occurring again.