George Michael: Freedom is a self indulgent documentary, says the late superstar's lifelong music collaborator David Austin.

But how could the film, the British singer, songwriter, record producer's last work before his Christmas Day 2016 death and which will screen at the 13th International Documentary Edge Festival in Auckland and Wellington next month, be anything else, Austin told the Herald on Sunday on the phone from the United Kingdom.

"How can it not be self-indulgent, we made it ha ha ha," the 55-year-old said when told a Guardian review had called the documentary "at times a bit self indulgent".

"It's self indulgent, but what is self indulgance? Him laughing at himself getting arrested in a toilet? Him laughing at cruising on Hampstead Heath or smoking a joint? Or him laughing at himself being mocked by James Corden or Ricky Gervais? That's self indulgent as well."

Advertisement
George Michael, left, and David Austin, aged 3 and 4 respectively in 1966. Photo / Supplied
George Michael, left, and David Austin, aged 3 and 4 respectively in 1966. Photo / Supplied

For the record, The Guardian also called George Michael: Freedom "honest and brilliant".

That's how Austin thinks of the 113 minute documentary he co-directed with the mate he first met as their prams passed in the street and with whom he later wrote their first song together, The Musicmaker of the World, aged six.

"We see all sides of George. His expertise in disarming his critics by self-mocking. He gives a great display in the film ... I think when people watch this film they're going to be surprised about how honest and candid George is.

"It's gonna make you sing, it's gonna make you laugh and it's gonna make you cry."

The documentary focuses on the period around the time Michael's second solo studio album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 was being released in 1990, the court case with Sony that followed and the singer's pain over the HIV diagnosis of his partner Anselmo Feleppa.

The album was being reissued, but Michael had —as with the first time it was released — no intention of promoting it. Instead he and Austin decided in 2015 to document "in his own words" what happened back in 1990.

George Michael's final work, the documentary George Michael: Freedom, is coming to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
George Michael's final work, the documentary George Michael: Freedom, is coming to New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Michael, who first rose to fame in the early 1980s as one half of music duo Wham! and scored hits such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Last Christmas, sued his record label Sony in 1992.

He claimed he had little control over his work, but he not only lost the case the move also slammed the brakes on his career for five years.

At the same time Michael was watching Feleppa die; he would eventually succumb to Aids aged 36 in 1993.

Advertisement

Michael was "quite explicit" about how Feleppa's struggle affected him, and influenced his decision to take on the powerful record label, Austin said.

"During the court case when he couldn't record or produce any of his own music, while his partner was also dying, which also stopped him creatively, it left a door open for him to put his energy into taking on the standard recording contract.

"Nobody had done that before. If he had won it would've been catastrophic for the music industry. Every other artist would've been looking at their contract."

David Austin, left, and George Michael in 1989. Photo / Supplied
David Austin, left, and George Michael in 1989. Photo / Supplied

The film was finished when Michael died of natural causes aged 53.

The last interview — with American producer, songwriter and musician Nile Rodgers — had taken place two days before and Michael and Austin planned to screen the documentary to their family over the festive season.

Michael "loved it" and there was never any serious thought of shelving the project following the tragedy, Austin said.

"It's an important piece of work and, of course, it's George's last work."