Broomfield, who hasn’t settled on a title yet (although “Whitney: Can I Be Me Now?” is one possibility), is heading into the editing room shortly to complete the film in time for a late 2016 bow on the pay cable network. That will put it ahead of the rival Houston documentary announced last week by Altitude Film Entertainment and director Kevin Macdonald.
Macdonald’s film is being produced with the cooperation of the Houston estate, which will give it access to internal archival footage and interviews with family members, plus Sony Music’s Clive Davis, who famously groomed Houston into a superstar. But Broomfield told Indiewire that his documentary promises to tell the story of Houston’s life and career without any conflict of interest that might come from the involvement of the star’s estate.
“I think people really felt that she was an incredibly selfless human being who rarely did what she wanted to do,” Broomfield said. “She was always trying to make everybody happy. She opened the doors for other artists, but she gave up something enormous in doing that. I think that’s why she’s this incredibly iconic figure. And that’s why we can make this film. Because I’m not beholden to Clive Davis or the estate.” (In the Altitude Film release, Macdonald said his film wouldn’t shy away from Houston controversies; but when contacted, the production company did not respond to follow-up questions.)
Broomfield said he has already cleared legal rights for nine of Houston’s key songs, and has also shot 30 interviews over the past two months, including backup singers, bodyguards and former Arista Records executives. “Meeting all these people has probably shown me a very kind of vulnerable, sensitive side of her that people have loved,” Broomfield said. “It might surprise you, but my old heart has been won over.”
One person Broomfield won’t speak to is Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown. “I don’t think I really need him,” Broomfield said. “I don’t know what he’s got to add. I think the people who are going to be more interesting are other members of his family, who have been more on the line. Bobby Brown and Whitney were in a kind of dance. They were completely destructive because they were in a weird competition. I’ve never heard Bobby Brown even vaguely talk eloquently about that. I also don’t want to spend that kind of money on him.”
Meanwhile, Broomfield confirmed that the Houston estate has contacted interview subjects and asked that they not participate in the Showtime project. (A rep for the estate declined comment.)
“It probably says more about them than about my production,” Broomfield said. “Not only is it a defensive move, it’s something that I don’t respect. The kind of behavior you don’t normally get in the documentary community. I don’t know if it’s had much of an effect on me, other than a few sleepless nights. It hasn’t changed the film I wanted to make.”
The filmmaker still has access to plenty of fair use footage, and also can tap the fully stocked resources of Showtime parent CBS’ “Entertainment Tonight,” “60 Minutes” and CBS News archives. Broomfield said he has the full support of Showtime, which holds the film’s North America rights, even as he encounters hurdles from the Houston estate. ” I think they realize I’ve been diligent and upfront and I secured a whole lot of the music.”
The Showtime film won’t shy away from the story behind who and what contributed to Houston’s tragic death at the age of 48. But the “Kurt & Courtney” filmmaker said he came into shooting the Houston doc with an open mind.
“I believe addiction is a disease, and it’s dangerous to take a strong moral position with people who are driven to it by the incredible stress that they’re under,” Broomfield said. “Friends of hers I talked to said she would weep talking about what they said about her in the press. It really got to her. She was very undefended. I’ve been very moved by this story. If I had found the opposite I wouldn’t pull my punches. But she’s misunderstood, the part of her with enormous heart.”
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