Nick Broomfield is no stranger to controversy.
Over the course of his career, he’s tangled with the likes of Suge Knight and Courtney Love, making provocative documentaries such as “Biggie & Tupac” and “Kurt & Courtney.” The director’s next project, a look at the life and career of Whitney Houston, has put him in the crosshairs of the pop star’s estate. But Broomfield says he’s not worried.
“I feel strongly that I cannot do a particularly insightful film into what happened with Whitney Houston and her life with the estate’s approval,” said Broomfield. “The reasons will become apparent when the film comes out.”
Although Broomfield is tight-lipped about the thesis of the film, he did give some indication about what his focus will be. He’s less interested in Houston’s troubles with drugs than he is in investigating the toll that her meteoric climb up the charts took on her psyche.
“Everybody knows about it,” said Broomfield. “Her drug abuse is less interesting than the issue of the incredible mismanagement of her money.”
The singer had to support a retinue of family members and hanger-ons, putting an additional strain on her. But Houston’s story is more than a tale of riches squandered. Along with Michael Jackson, she was one of the first African-American performers to appeal to both white and black audiences.
“Her meteoric rise and tragic fall raises a lot of questions about what kind of sacrifices she made to to be a crossover singer who was at some points rejected by her own people,” said Broomfield. “She was booed at the Soul Train awards. This all took place at a time when America was even more polarized than it is today.”
Showtime will release the film in 2017 in the United States and Submarine is selling the international rights at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Despite the family’s objections, Broomfield is confidant he will be able to clear the rights to use nine or 10 of Houston’s songs. He has also been able to interview roughly 30 friends and former colleagues.
“Whitney was not only at heart a very religious person, but she deeply cared about all the people around her,” said Broomfield. “She cared rather little about herself and worried a lot about how everybody else was doing.”
In addition to selling rights to the Houston documentary, Broomfield will be honored this week at Cannes. He will receive Finch & Partners and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s filmmakers award — a recognition that was previously given to Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron, and Bernardo Bertulluci.
“It’s good company,” said Broomfield. “I’m honored and flattered and somewhat amazed, as well.”