English filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary-making skills meet Maradona’s magic left foot
Diego Maradona missed the famous red carpet of the prestigious Cannes film festival last week. While the Argentinian football great, who is recovering from a surgery, didn’t turn up for the world premiere of the new biopic on him, its director Asif Kapadia is delighted he could make a movie on Maradona and even touch his magic left foot. “It was Maradona’s left foot,” beams Kapadia, the Indian-origin director from London, whose new documentary Diego Maradona was part of the Out of Competition section of the 72nd Cannes film festival that concluded last week.
“He was sitting on the sofa while we were doing an audio interview. I was sitting on the floor at his feet with a microphone as he was talking. Then I thought, Oh my God! That is Maradona’s legs. And I had this urge to touch his left foot,” says Kapadia narrating the experience during an interview with FE on Sunday after the screening of the film.
“I wondered if he would mind if I touched it. I have never had an urge to touch a foot before. And I just grabbed his ankle,” recalling the incident. “He doesn’t like anyone touching him,” adds Kapadia, whose two previous films also were on iconic personalities — Senna (2010) on the Brazilian Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna, and Amy (2015) on British singer Amy Winehouse.
Like Senna and Amy, this film centres around the legendary player’s tenure in the Italian club Napoli in the city of Naples between 1984 and 1991, and relies heavily on archival footage. “In the beginning of Maradona’s career, there were two cameramen following him everywhere in Argentina, Barcelona and Naples,” says Kapadia. “His first manager had decided to make a film on Maradona. Some of the footage had been used, but the majority of it hasn’t been seen before.”
The two-hour-ten-minute film, which starts with Maradona’s walk into the San Paolo stadium in Naples after being signed for a then world-record fee ($10 million), also has the all-important footage from the 1986 Mexico World Cup. Maradon’s two goals — the ‘Hand of God’ and the long run and dribble — against England in the quarter-finals appear in the film.
“Our producers were able to get access to the material that Maradona had,” says Kapadia, who used 500 hours of footage from Maradona’s personal archive for the movie. “A lot of it was disintegrating,” he adds. There was no influence from the football giant in the making of the movie. “He didn’t try to influence, quite the opposite,” explains Kapadia. “He is very charismatic, a good storyteller too.”
Diego Maradona shows the player’s arrival at Napoli from Barcelona, where he had a ‘disastrous’ season. Napoli was a poor club, close to bankruptcy, and facing relegation.
“I asked for a house, I got a flat. I asked for a Ferrari, I got a Fiat,” Maradona says in the film. The Argentinian great helped Napoli win two Italian Series A titles and a European title within four years while winning a World Cup for Argentina in 1986.
But he also fell into trouble, facing allegations of proximity to the mafia and drug addiction. A young Italian woman claimed on television he was the father of her newborn son. Maradona also became the most-hated man in Naples after the 1990 World Cup in Italy where Argentina beat the hosts in the semi-finals.
“Football in Naples is intense like in the whole of Italy,” says Kapadia, whose team conducted an extensive research in Italy and Argentina along with 80 interviews for the film.
“Most of the people know the later Maradona. He wins titles in Naples, but there were problems for him,” says Kapadia. “That is why we took his story in Naples to make the movie.” Kapadia, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary for Amy, doesn’t show today’s Maradona, instead uses only audio interviews with him. “It was a style that we played with,” says Kapadia. “For me filming him now wouldn’t have added anything. I didn’t want his performance, I wanted to ask him questions.”