One shouldn't eulogize someone too early, and there's nothing more awkward than attempting to tell someone's life story while they're still living it.
At the second-ever public screening of Matanga / Maya / M.I.A., Steve Loveridge's dense and ambitious documentary about Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, the artist herself told a Sundance audience that she didn't really like the film.
Then again, how could she? Since she first broke through as a global pop star in the mid-'00s, M.I.A. has been a lightning rod for global conversation, media controversy and a seemingly endless supply of border-blurring pop music. As Matangi clearly demonstrates, she's also been unfairly infantilized in the media.
Using a hodgepodge of formats, the film compiles decades of Maya's private videotapes, following everything from her early student films and an abandoned documentary she made about Sri Lanka's civil rights crisis, through her perpetual rises and falls in pop culture. Of course, this includes her numerous hits, her controversial music videos and public controversies like the time she was ridiculed in a dismissive New York Times Magazine cover story or the time she flipped off the entire Super Bowl.
It's a film that effectively balances Maya's rise to pop culture superstardom with her desire to spread truth about global injustices. Wisely, Loveridge glosses over tabloid fodder like M.I.A.'s admittedly notable relationships, and he does manage to demonstrate the turmoil of balancing Beverly Hills fame with a desire to spread truth about human rights atrocities. It's a documentary that's at once lionizing and humanizing, offering a well-rounded glimpse into the performer's motives and message.
Onstage beside a nervously twitching Loveridge, M.I.A. told the Sundance audience that she had about 300 edits she still wants on the film, adding that it was too much about her and not enough about Sri Lanka. That the film is this excellent and still not good enough for its subject speaks volumes about the electric, unflinching idealism of M.I.A. — and despite her protests, that revolutionary spirit comes through crystal clear onscreen. (Cinereach)