Troubled Genius

Asif Kapadia is a British director of both features and documentaries, including The Warrior and Far North and, in non-fiction, the acclaimed Amy (which won an Oscar for Best Documentary) and Senna. He returns with his latest documentary, Diego Maradona, about the infamous Argentinean footballer during his time playing for Napoli when his football greatness was matched only by his controversies off the pitch, including drug addiction and connections to the Camorra – local Italian mobsters.

ASFF: Diego Maradona is a very different documentary to Amy and Senna, not least because the subject is still around. Was that part of what hooked you in?
AK: If we’re going to make this kind of film, it needed to be a different challenge. I’ve done the story of, sadly, two people who died very young, and this was a different challenge…[as] he survived. One way or another, whatever he got up to, he’s still going. And that’s pretty amazing when you see what he’s been through.

ASFF: He’s called “a rebel, cheat, hero and god” in the film. Does this sum him up?
AK: I think it does. He has all of these traits, which make him so interesting, but that’s why you have people who love and hate him. He really is loved, he’s a god, he’s hated, he’s a rebel, he always does the opposite of what’s expected, he cheats…we know that more than anyone in England. But then he’s also a genius. He’s brilliant. He has all of these facts about him, all these elements, which make him different to everyone.

ASFF: You interview him for the film. How hard was it to get him to open up?
AK: It took a while. I did a series of interviews, where I would try and get him at a quiet time, particularly when he’s at home without any distractions. But it would be very low key. By then I was doing my normal way of working – no cameras, no crew. Just me and another person who is not even in the room, who is translating. The first meeting was friendly and we were talking about stuff. He was a bit tired. You’re thinking, ‘This is going to be difficult.’ The second meeting, he had a lot more energy and he kind of understood the process and we’d refined it and were able to move a bit quicker.

ASFF: How tricky was he to pin down?
AK: Sometimes he’s not the most reliable witness to his own story. So we’ll do our homework, we’ll talk to people and then he’ll say the opposite – but that’s not what happened! And then you have to talk to him and say, ‘That’s not what it was, really.’ And he’s used to saying, ‘This is my version of the truth today!’ So you’re dealing with him changing his mind, changing his story, and that was an interesting challenge.

ASFF: You focus on his years at Napoli, both his rise and fall. What’s his reputation like there?
AK: The amazing thing about Naples is it’s like a city like Newcastle, where you’ve got only one team. So everyone supports Naples, but then you have the cultural situation of Italy … football is high culture. It’s up there with good food, fine art, opera … football isn’t considered for the lower classes. You have judges and all the heads of the police, and the Camorra bosses, street people, lawyers…all of them were Napoli season ticket holders and they would all go and watch the games together. So he was a hero to every single section of society in that city.

Diego Maradona is released in cinemas on 14 June. For more details, visit Altitude Films.

James Mottram