Amy Winehouse’s story is imperfect. Yet, Asif Kapadia’s Amy documentary shows a flawed woman who was capable of turning her mess into a message.
After being met with praise and controversy following its Cannes Film Festival debut on May 16, the archive-heavy doc zooms in on the late British singer’s life, from her rebellious teenage years in 1998 to her untimely death in 2011, and lyrics. With hours of never-before-seen footage (most filmed on a camcorder), the movie also recruits several voices to tell her story, from her childhood friends, Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert to her family and ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.
Here, her former manager, Nick Shymansky, steps up to the mic and recalls his initial reaction to the film, Winehouse’s personality and what her loyalists should keep in mind while watching the film.—Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)
VIBE: You handed over 12 hours of video footage to filmmakers when the Amy documentary was still a work in progress. Were there ever any second thoughts?
Nick Shymansky: Well, I wasn’t interested for a long time. I wasn’t looking to show anyone the footage and I certainly wasn’t looking into getting involved with the film. For me, that came out of spending time with Asif Kapadia, the director, and I just thought, ‘This guy is trying to do something really real or really raw.’ We spent a lot of time talking about everything and I just got to the point where I trusted him. I felt like he was trying to research Amy the right way. I got to the point where I just said to him, ‘Here are my tapes, you go through them. I can’t watch them right now, but you tell me what you want to use and we’ll talk.’ So I kind of let him just go through [my footage] and figure it out. I wouldn’t sign off on it until he could show me the finished film and I was very happy with what I saw. I think he totally drew an honest and hard story to tell.
In the film, we get to see Amy as a best friend and confidant, and not just global sensation. As someone who was able to spend so much time with her, how fun was it to really hang out with Amy Winehouse?
She’s amazing, funny, sharp and cutting when she wanted to be. She’s a challenge in a kind of really exciting way. I used to really enjoy just hanging out. She can cover anything from music to film. She had really interesting insight into people. That was the biggest reason for getting involved for me, because a lot of people don’t realize the tabloids kind of left her life story in quite a dirty place, when really, there is a lot more to her than that.
Where there any surprises when you watched the film?
I knew that it would open up a Pandora’s box. I knew that it was not a straightforward story. I didn’t know that she was taking antidepressants and that she was bulimic before I knew her, when she was 14 so there are some facts that opened up to me. But there is no way that you could know absolutely everything about her. I think Asif, in some ways, probably got to know more facts [about Amy] than anyone.
With all the research and interviews that were conducted for the film, what were some of the emotions you felt when you watched her relationship with [her ex-husband] Blake unfold on the big screen?
Frustrated and sad. All she really wanted was to fall in love and meet someone she can feel something really strong for. But I don’t blame him—he is a long lost kid. He was a young guy at the time, but I don’t think he ever had her best interest at heart.
“A lot of people don’t realize the tabloids kind of left her life story in quite a dirty place, when really, there is a lot more to her than that.”
Do you feel that [Amy’s dad] Mitch Winehouse’s reaction to the film is justified?
I think it’s a very hard thing for a father to watch. He lost his daughter, so you have to respect that. They loved each other, so you have to respect that. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t capable of making some mistakes. What’s so strong about the film is that Asif is never really pointing the finger and no one is really slacking anyone off. It’s really what he says that makes him look a certain way so I think it is justified because it’s factual. I spent time with Asif. He is not the sort of guy to try and sensationalize something, or point the finger at someone for no reason. I think the film is pretty damn honest and I can see why certain people aren’t happy about it, as well.
After seeing the final product, is there anything that you wished you could have added or maybe changed?
The only thing I wish I could change is her life. It’s raw and it’s painful but it’s honest. Therefore, I think it’s a very hard story to tell because you can’t not show the dark side of it. There is no point in making a film on Amy unless it’s done really well. I wish the whole story wasn’t necessary to tell. I wish there wasn’t a story. Amy didn’t get the things in life that she wanted. She didn’t want her life to end at 27.
Is there one thing you want to tell Amy’s first-day fans to keep in mind as they watch the documentary?
I just think that if this gets people to re-listen to the songs, maybe if they see another artist in the future in trouble, [that it gets] people thinking with a little bit more depth. I’m already feeling it by talking to people that write for magazines, or journalists like yourself, but I’m feeling like there is a little bit more warmth for Amy than there was before. Not with everyone, but I feel like people see the film and connect with the Amy they never connected to. Hopefully, her fans can do that, as well.