Kevin Macdonald to direct official Whitney Houston doc

Altitude Film will launch the doc – the first to be authorized by the late pop superstar's estate – for international buyers during the Cannes Film Festival next month.
April 28, 2016

A documentary about late pop superstar Whitney Houston is going into production.

Marley director Kevin Macdonald is helming the project, with Lightbox’s Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugarman) and Jonathan Chinn producing alongside former OWN exec Lisa Erspamer (Running From Crazy).

Altitude Film, which handled sales for Asif Kapadia’s Amy, has acquired the UK rights and will launch the doc for international buyers during the Cannes Film Festival next month. A theatrical release is planned for 2017.

The as-yet-untitled doc is the first authorized by Houston’s estate since the singer’s death at age 48 in 2012. In a press release, producers said Macdonald has the estate’s blessing to tell “the unvarnished and authentic story of the singer’s life in a film that will examine both the highs and lows of her dramatic career.”

Legendary record exec Clive Davis, who guided Houston’s career, has agreed to be interviewed for the film. Macdonald will also have access to friends, family and collaborators – some of whom have never before told their stories.

“The story that is never told about Whitney is just how brilliant she was as an artist; by many measures she had the greatest voice of the last 50 years,” Macdonald said in a statement. “She changed the way pop music was sung – bringing it back full circle to its blues and gospel roots.

“Although we won’t shy away from the darker parts of Whitney’s life – her descent into addiction – I want audiences to walk out of the cinema and feel positive about Whitney and her music,” he added. “I want to reveal a woman that even her most die-hard fans never knew; and a woman those new to her life and music will never forget.”

Viewers can also expect never-before-seen archival footage spanning Houston’s life, from her early days singing gospel in church to the day of her death, as well as exclusive demo recordings, rare performance footage and audio archive.

Altitude’s Will Clarke, Andy Mayson and Mike Runagall are exec producing.

A multimillion-selling star with a three-octave range, Houston broke through in the mid-1980s and earned a reputation as one of the greatest voices in R&B and pop thanks to hit singles such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “I Will Always Love You.”

In the 1990s, she moved into acting with films such as The Bodyguard and Waiting To Exhale but her career was later overshadowed by drug addiction and a turbulent marriage to singer Bobby Brown (the couple starred in the Bravo reality series Being Bobby Brown in 2005).

Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel on the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards. Authorities determined the cause of death was drowning, with heart disease and cocaine contributing factors.

Nick Broomfield is also at work on a film about the singer for the BBC, titled Whitney.

The Houston docs are the latest in a string of doc biopics on musicians. Kapadia’s all-archival look at Amy Winehouse, Amy, won the Oscar for documentary feature after premiering at Cannes last year, and a Jim Jarmusch-directed doc about rock legend Iggy Pop is set to premiere at this year’s Cannes.

Other recent high-profile projects include Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck, Amy Berg’s Janis Joplin doc Janis: Little Girl Blue and Liz Garbus’ Nina Simone doc What Happened, Miss Simone?, which is among this year’s Peabody Award winners.

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.