Walking into Asif Kapadia's enthralling Formula One racing doc Senna, I knew almost nothing about the film's subject. While Ayrton Senna's story may be intimately familiar to racing fans around the world, it is very likely that many American filmgoers will approach the film with a clean slate. This presents a fantastic opportunity to let Kapadia's narrative present all the abundant drama for the first time and therefore I will avoid any spoilers past some very basic info here. Regardless of if you know Senna's story - be you racing fan or not, you owe it to yourself to see this beautifully crafted film that is certainly one of the best documentaries of the year.
Just as a quick note of background, Ayrton Senna rose to dominate European racing at the beginning of the 90s and became one of Brazil's most beloved celebrities. When Senna wins his first Formula One title some 20 or so minutes into the film, I couldn't help thinking, where is it gonna go from here? I had no idea what I was in for as the events that play out over the coming years are as dramatic as any fiction.
The film is compiled entirely from stock footage. Never cutting away to a talking head keeps the audience right there in Senna's fast paced world. Kapadia's use of in-car race footage really ups the ante, locking us in the cockpit with Senna as he finesses his way around competitors at over 200 MPH. Half way through the film, I thought to myself that such an incredible story was ripe for a Hollywood remake. By its end, I was convinced that no dramatization of these events could ever be close to as exciting as watching the real thing.
Kapadia's worldwide team viewed over 15,000 hours of footage (umm, that's almost two years!) from races, interviews, press conferences, tv reports, drivers' meetings, and home videos. The finished product clocks in at 104 minutes - but flies by in what feels like half that. However Senna fans have something special to hope for. Kapadia revealed during the Q&A that there is a seven hour cut of the movie out there that he is hoping to show in some form of very limited engagement. I am ready to buy a ticket now - hell I'd fly to London for that. And any doc that leaves fans drooling over the thought of a seven hour version has got to be an example of exceptional filmmaking.
Senna will be released in limited US theaters on August 12th and will hopefully find the support it needs to expands past that.