Events

Racing Towards God: Asif Kapadia's Documentary Senna Screens at IFC in NYC

Nik Ruckert
Photo Credits: PDA (Producers Distribution Agency)

Riveting and emotional, the film Senna tracks his life on and off the race course.

A man turned in his theater seat and announced to the woman sitting next to him that he was preparing to get emotional during this screening, and that he might even cry.

The screening was that of The Warrior director Asif Kapadia's new documentary Senna at IFC Center in Manhattan -- the second film in Raphaela Neilhausen and Thom Powers' Stranger than Fiction documentary series -- and it drew something of a mixed crowd: documentary fans, series pass holders, and inquisitive Formula One racing devotees.

After a brief introduction by host Powers, the curtains were shut in front of the screen, then pulled back again, and the movie began. The audience was literally driven through Ayrton Senna’s racing life, beginning with go-karts in his early teens, and through his Formula One races -- the first of which he won on the track, but the decision was made, based on a technicality, to call it in favor of Alain Prost, a future rival of Senna’s.

The filmmakers, director Kapadia, and writer Manish Pandey, took a cinematic approach to the story, letting the footage of Senna speak for itself, with little in the way of commentary or voice-overs. We watched Senna’s life on the track and off: his races won and lost, his humanitarian efforts, his Brazilian pride, and his relationship with God.

Toward the end of the film, that ill-fated May Day in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix, most of the audience, even those of us unfamiliar with Mr. Senna, knew what was to come. Senna's sister, Vivienne, recalled that, prior to his final race, Senna had opened his Bible and read a passage that promised him the greatest gift of all: being with God. Some audience members leaned forward, some mouths hung open, faces lit by the flickering screen: we waited for it, it came, and it was over.

The credits rolled, the curtains were shut over the screen again, and Powers welcomed an auto sports journalist named Tom O'Keefe to join him down in front and answer a few questions. O’Keefe spoke about the film taking seventeen years to come to fruition, and referred specifically to a failed attempt at a biopic starring Antonio Bandares, who, he admitted, bore a physical resemblance to Senna. But evidently, Senna's family, friends, and fans agreed that nobody could play Ayrton Senna except Ayrton Senna.

O'Keefe went on to talk about the exhaustive research the filmmakers did, pouring over hundreds of hours of footage of Senna’s races, both the at the Formula One archives and in Brazil. “This is as close as you’re going to get to hearing his story,” O’Keefe said. “Although there is a lot of left out, naturally. And there is a five-hour version of the film that in my dreams will come out in a special DVD.”

The only trace of criticism for Senna came when Mr. O'Keefe pointed out that, as we saw in the film, he could occasionally act like a “spoiled brat” in the driver’s meetings. O’Keefe spoke about Senna’s rivalry with Alain Prost, his strength as a wet driver, and the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. “There was a big investigation that went on for years,” he said. “There are all sorts of conspiracy theories, there is footage from different cameras as to what happened.” The filmmakers made no attempt to address the investigation in the film. “Maybe they just threw their hands up at 104 minutes. That whole investigation -- where the car is, and the helmet is still a little bit of a mystery.”

Calling Senna a “sportsman of the highest order,” O’Keefe tried to explain why he was still so admired, even though other Formula One drivers had died on the track. “He had other dimensions and a breadth that I think most drivers didn’t have,” he said. “And he went out at the top of his profession for sure. He certainly had every up and down that anyone would ever want in life. He won, he lost.”

* * *

The riveting, emotional Senna will be theatrically released in the United States August 12.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image