Ayrton Senna was a star. As recounted in Asif Kapadia's terrific documentary, the Formula One driver was not only skilled and daring, but also charismatic and thoughtful. The film begins as he arrives from Brazil for the first time in Europe to compete in goo-kart races, and immediately draws attention, from other racers as well as media. "It was pure driving, pure racing," he says in an interview at the time, 1978. "There wasn’t any politics involved in it, no money involved either. Like it was real racing." The film goes on to consider the many ways that politics manifest in Formula One racing, the ways that teams make money, hire drivers, and contract with media, even as it also conveys what's thrilling about the driving, from a driver's perspective, for the most part. Using remarkable footage from inside drivers' cockpits. As Senna, his chief competitor and teammate Alain Prost, and a range of number of international commentators and journalists discuss what's at stake, for national, corporate and individual identities, the film leads inevitably to Senna's death in 1994, following a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. Less celebratory than contemplative, more nuanced than definitive, the documentary articulates risks and also allows the drivers to describe their nearly ecstatic experiences. Senna is a heady mix of material, psychic, and emotional elements, unresolved.
Playing on 25 January, at 7pm and 9pm, as part of Maysles Cinema's Jock Docs series. Between the screenings, you can catch a Q&A with Luca Forgeois, 16-year-old 2011 National Class USF2000 Champion racecar driver.
See PopMatters' review.