The man in the grey suit isn't happy. He marches over, raises his middle finger, looks at her, and says: "We just need to talk about that."

M.I.A. has just come off stage after performing as part of the SuperBowl 2012 half-time show, giving Madonna's otherwise predictable set a bolt of electricity with a cameo that ended with her flipping off the audience.

Backstage, she'd been all smiles. "It's why she got me in — cos I can say the shit (Madonna) can't," she'd declared.

But when the NFL suits show up, her face drops. M.I.A. flees the stadium, entourage in tow. That footage, and the aftermath of M.I.A.'s controversial performance, which saw the NFL try to sue her for US$16 million, is the defining moment of MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A., the singer's first official documentary.


Whittled down from hundreds of hours of home footage by director Steve Loveridge, the film, screening as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, is a compelling look at a pop star who has refused to confirm to norms.

Born with a Tamil Tiger as a father, M.I.A. grew up in London, and quickly hit it big with a brand of schizophrenic hip-hop infused with her Sri Lankan roots. Her electric first performance at Coachella, included here, shows just how fast her rise was.

But M.I.A.'s background, provocative behaviour, dismissive interview style and political music videos meant she never scored a spot in the mainstream, even if her music sometimes demanded it.

That makes her a great topic for a documentary, but Loveridge's efforts land with as much controversy as the artist herself. Rumours were this was first finished in 2013 but label battles have seen it only just released. Reports also suggest M.I.A. was expecting Loveridge to make a tour diary and isn't happy with the finished cut.

It's not an easy watch. The film jumps all over the place, cutting between countries and time zones more often than a Mission: Impossible movie.

But there are highlights: from the early incarnation of the bedroom music she makes with her sister, to the moment she and Diplo mastermind Paper Planes, her biggest hit. You'll have to wade through interviews, home videos and live footage for the gold.

Like the artist, Loveridge's film is just a little too haphazard. But perhaps that's why this is the perfect M.I.A. documentary.


Director: Steve Loveridge
Rating: M
Screening: As part of the NZIFF
Verdict: Confused portrait of a confusing artist