By Anthony Crabtree, Guest Blogger
“Senna,” written by Manish Pandey, directed by Asif Kapadia, 106 minutes, rated PG-13.
When taking a look at recent documentaries, most of them revolve around social issues and include interviews from people who are experts on the subject. These documentaries can range from great to terrible, but they always miss an important aspect: Being there. It’s more important to see and experience something than to hear about it second hand. The most powerful documentaries approach their subject matter with documents that live, breathe and speak, not look at facts and statistics that a narrator or interviewee riddles off.
“Senna” is unlike any recent documentary and is hands down one of the best films I have seen this year. Directed by Asif Kapadia, the film focuses on the life, but primarily the career, of Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna. Kapadia does something that documentaries rarely do, which is put the viewer in the moment. Relying mostly on archival footage, Kapadia documents the tremendous career of the Brazilian-born driver, the politics of the sport, the rivalries developed and the impact that Senna had on his home country.
We don’t see interviews from important figures in Senna’s life talking about what a great guy he was or how he was an excellent F1 driver. There is the occasional audio interview from a close friend or family member that is used to clear up some points, but these moments are few and far between. They are not necessary in order to understand the career or the man.
The racing footage that Kapadia uses gives viewers a different perspective on the Formula One world. Even those who know nothing about F1 racing will find the footage of Ayrton Senna driving to be breathtaking. The best moments in the film are with the on-board camera, where we see the speed at which these professionals drive at, and in some incredibly small way, live their experience. At times, Kapadia slows this footage down, creating surreal moments of an experience that cannot exist. These are moments where we have time to think about the speed, and not just experience it.
Looking at the other racing footage, any viewer will immediately see the difference in the way that Senna drove compared to others on the track, the determination that he drove with, and the skill that made him one of the greatest. It also approaches the fact that because of these skills, coupled with his fame, Senna became an inspiration and a hero to the country of Brazil.
While Senna’s relationship with his home country may have been all love, Kapadia makes sure to show the politics of Formula One racing and how difficult it was for Senna to achieve the three championships that he won. His rivalry with teammate and competitor Alain Prost, and his troubles with FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre, created troubles for Senna. Kapadia’s use of F1 driver’s meetings, and interviews with Senna and Prost, give insight into the strangely political world of racing.
Ultimately, behind all of this, there is a sense of dread that looms over the final 20 minutes. Those unfamiliar with Senna need only know that his ending is tragic and unfortunate. The major question that Kapadia poses, again through the use of archival footage, is what purpose does a racing driver serve? The look on the faces of Brazilians when Senna won any of his championships could serve as answer enough, but this film goes beyond that. Through Senna’s words, and through his expressions when talking about racing, we see a reason why racing is important that is almost indescribable. It’s the feeling that you get when watching the film, when watching a driver race not for money or fame, but
for the enjoyment of the sport, and knowing the importance of achieving greatness.