During the opening night of New Directors/New Films held at the Museum of Modern Art, there was a screening for Stephen Loveridge’s Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.
This is a documentary based on M.I.A.’s life and was more personal since a lot of the footage shown was her own videos that she took throughout her life. Before the screening, we got a chance to talk to M.I.A. and Stephen about the documentary.
Before the Instagram and Snapchat era, how were you able to take so many videos of yourself in that time period?
I have no idea; I guess I knew this time was coming where people were going to ask for receipts and I needed to show some receipts that I’m not a terrorist, the revolution in Sri Lanka was a real thing. It involved women being sexually exploited, harassed, raped and murdered. That I’m not a posh kid whose mom and dad are doctors and I had a privileged life. I’m not anti-black, I’m not all of these things that people accuse me of or anti-American or whatever the thing is. That I’m just somebody who comes from a real place and it’s not to do with narcissism like you’re filming yourself all the time, it was the difficulty of not finding people that understood you, so you explore it. I just wanted to tell people’s stories, so I had a camera all the time.
When Stephen made the film and then you saw it for yourself, what were some of the videos that you were surprised about seeing?
Everything, yeah there’s only about four minutes of the film that I’m like yeah that’s what should’ve been in there and the rest of it I’m like I don’t know how he found some of the stuff that he found.
How was it going from being a close friend to M.I.A. to going away and not being able to contact her to work on this documentary?
It was difficult in terms of our friendship, but I thought it was essential for the movie. That it had that sense of objectivity that was free to make whatever I felt the footage needed and the story needed and didn’t have M.I.A. in the edit suite kind of affecting my judgment. So it was awkward because I would spend all my time looking at tapes of her and so I really wouldn’t want to get on the phone and hang out after work or anything, whereas Maya felt like I completely disappeared for two years. So, yeah it was weird but we knew we had to do it to make a film that would have the right kind of tone cause there’s nothing worse than watching something where you feel cynical, like you’re not being told the truth, cause the celebrity or whoever the subject matter is so self-conscious and they’ve got control of the edit. I felt it’s really important, I think when you see the film you’ll see that the film hopefully doesn’t feel like that, it feels very open and very intimate.
The title is Matangi/Maya/M.I.A is that to describe her three chapters of her life?
Yeah, and they are her three names she uses. So to her family, she’s Matangi, and then to everybody who knows her in England when she moved from Sri Lanka, she called herself Maya and then M.I.A. is the music industry pop star. The film is edited in a non-linear way that those personas return and we reflect on who she is as the Sri Lankan refugee and who she is as a member of her close family in London and who she is as a pop star and they sort of overlap and intersect and conflict with each other sometimes, and overlap and help each other along those identities. I think it’s quite a familiar story for lots and lots of people, to be displaced and come from more than one culture, it’ quite a familiar story in this day and age.
As this is your first documentary and how you worked on it for your first time, what are some of the things you’re looking to do in the future with documentaries with M.I.A. and individually as well?
Before this I was working in 2D stuff, doing graphics animations and 3D. Now that I’ve had this experience of going through the documentary world, I think I want to do something that combines new digital media and documenting. I’m really interested in 3D scanning and recording things in three dimensions, but all my work is always to do with reality and documenting real life, I don’t make unicorns and spacemen and that kind of thing and computer game stuff. I scan real people and so I’m looking to do a project that’s like that, maybe in augmented reality or virtual reality, I’m really interested in those kinds of things. So something that is a hybrid of the two like documenting and 3D graphics. I’m not sure what that is yet. When we took the film to Sundance they had some really exciting VR projects that were along those lines, there were a few documentaries that I thought were really successful there so that was really exciting to see, so that’s the kind of space I’m trying to get to.