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Mark Kermode | 22:19 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

There's a new documentary out soon about Ayrton Senna the racing driver. I don't really care for Formula One but like the recent TT3D, Senna goes into areas way beyond the usual sports documentary and is much more than just a thrill ride...

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  • Comment number 1.

    Who would have thought two sport based films would be in Marks favourite films of the year so far

  • Comment number 2.

    I have to agree with you melatonin. Like the good Dr, I too have no interest in the sporting arena. But a good doco is always worthwhile. So I'm more inclined to view these two doco's, especially TT3D, when they make it to Oz. I'll be listening in live tonight for the interview with the director with Kermode and Mayo.

  • Comment number 3.

    This is an incredible film. It brings back some great memories and manages to stimulate those which never existed. Obviously, there is a gigantic amount of footage available in the archive. It must have been painful for the director to whittle it down into such a short film. Had the documentary lasted for eight hours, I would still have been as gripped and enthralled! Subjects like the Comas crash at Spa are incredibly poignant, but are only briefly touched upon. Obviously this is a result of time constraints.

    Does the director feel that Senna's compassion was also muddled with his obsession with ‘Deus’ [not Amadeus, Mr. Mayo] and also with his drive to win? Almost as if his benevolence for humanity stopped when he stepped into the car! Prost was his devil!

    There is a distinct possibility that he may have become a force for change in Brazil had he not perished. Even in the 1990s, there was political turmoil in that country. Senna was a character with true populist characteristics. An enormous outpouring of emotion occured at his funeral. Also see the incredible work his charitable foundation does today, even so many years after his death. This is juxtaposed with the majority of today's sportsmen, Senna used his talent for good. The film portrays this quite well.

    *SPOILER ALERT* I felt slightly saddened that Prost was made out to be some kind of pantomime villain, in regards to the 1990 Suzuka crash. He was put down, only to be built back up at the end. Here we see Prost as a pall bearer and it is revealed he is a member of the Senna Foundation’s Trust Board. Is this an attempt at showing his ‘redemption’?

  • Comment number 4.

    Dear Dr Kermode,

    A question for the Senna director, if you would be so kind. When making a documentary such as this, did you have to put a lot of thought into how best to engage the audience? Or did you simply set out with telling the story of Senna as best you could regardless of how cinematic the documentary would be? The reason I ask this is that many people would think a documentary about Formula One would only be of interest to fans of the sport, however this documentary has captivated more than just F1 aficionados.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Dr. K,

    Unlike you I am a HUGE Formula 1 fan and an avid fan of Ayrton Senna and the McLaren team. I had been looking forward to this film for a long time, even more than anything else that's on the horizon. I wanted to see it so badly that I got myself a copy of the Brazilian DVD a month or so back. It was well worth it.

    As a Formula 1 fan it excited me to see such amazing archive footage of those now legendary 80s races (I was too young to watch them at the time) and the scenes away from all the racing was a treasure trove but as a cinema fan it thrilled me even more to see a meticulously and lovingly made film which explores the ecstatic heights and tragic lows of humanity. It celebrates his talent but at the same time doesn't pander or shy away from the ugliness which went hand in hand with it.

    Many people, particularly people who follow F1, know Senna as the guy who died racing. This film shines a light on his extraordinary life and I think will bring new fans to the sport. Quite simply it’s the greatest film about motor racing I have ever seen. In fact I loved this film so much I will definitely be paying to go see it again when it's out in the cinema in a couple of weeks.

    I have already predicted that it will win the Oscar for best documentary next year. Let's hope this is true.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have sent a couple of emails to 5 Live but in case that doesn't get through or anything, here are the questions I sent for the director:

    When making 'Senna', did you have a pre-planned idea of what to make or did that come later once you had gone through all of the archive footage? 

    Do you think Ayrton Senna would have won the 1994 championship if he hadn't died? 

    When it came to sensitive or possibly volatile footage such as the crash at Spa, the FIA inquiries about Senna's dangerous driving and the fatal crash itself, how did you go about balancing tact with wanting to tell a good story?

    Ayrton Senna was in Formula 1 for ten years and had 162 races in the sport so obviously it must have been difficult choosing which parts to include. Why did you choose the parts that you did, and not other famous incidents in his career such as his rivalry with (now BBC commentator) Martin Brundle in F3 before his F1 career or the infamous 1989 Imola restart which magnified the rivalry with Prost intensely?

    Has any of the other racing drivers such as Schumacher, Prost or Mansell seen the film and if so what do they think of the portrayal of their ex-rival, or indeed themselves?

  • Comment number 7.

    Totally agree with the Dr.
    Any documentary executed correctly can both entertain and open your mind to 'real life' worlds that may have never been of interest.
    I look back to a documentary that came out in 1999 about professional wrestling in the US, Beyond the Mat.
    I highly recommend this as another sports (entertainment) documentary whether you have ever had an interest in professional wrestling or not.
    It focuses not entirely on the industry but on the people and characters that work within the industry.
    Go and find it!

  • Comment number 8.

    I went to watch TT3d last night and it's a superb documentary. I don't want to raise the 3d issue (yet again) but don't worry if you can only catch it in 2d, the 3d bit is largely irrelevant and used a bit too much.

    There's a couple of things I could criticise it on but I'm like most motorsports so perhaps it wouldn't be fair.

    They really struck gold with Guy Martin. I suspect he's a bit of a 1000 monkeys with a thousand typewriters kind of person when it comes to what he comes out with on camera but still very entertaining.

    The bit that struck a chord was the lack of glamour vs what is on the line for the racers - compared to say, Formula 1 - and I think they did a great job of showing what all involved deal with around their passion for the race.

    The actual race footage was brilliant as well.

    Very much looking forward to Senna now.

  • Comment number 9.

    i am looking forward to seeing this film very much, but i am slightly worried about the tone which might be followed. it is very easy to see senna as a "god" and he was a great sporting hero, but with all sporting greats he was ruthless and he said himself that he stuck his car in positions that he knew would cause crashes and left it to the other guy to decide wether or not to hit him, the famous incident with prost is a classic example. i would ask if this film is a true reflection on what Senna was as a racing driver, brilliant, on occasion ruthless and some may say sometimes willfully dangerous.

  • Comment number 10.

    My question for the director is: How do you decide on what topic you wanted to document? Is it through interest/passion for the subject or something that will attract a large audience?

  • Comment number 11.

    As an F1 fan, I was only too aware that the 15 years or so following Ayrton's death were full of various rumours regarding potential films though these were always mooted as biopics rather than documentaries and seemed to disappear as soon as their fanciful Hollywood casting plans were talked about - Antonio Banderas as the man himself, anyone?

    Was Asif aware of the stuttering history of these other projects and was it always a documentary he wanted to make, (or was allowed to make)? Was he already an F1 fan or was it a project that landed on his desk he was drawn to once he delved into the subject?

    love the show Steve,


  • Comment number 12.

    Although it was a television documentary, some of you UK viewers may remember the Gold Fever trilogy of documentaties, about the men's coxless 4 (Steve Redgrave et al.) in the run up to the Sydney Olympics. That was another excellent sports docu, where you didn't have to love the sport (rowing) but got very involved in the personalities of the crew and wider team.

    It's not been bettered since, in my knowledge. Fortunately it's on YouTube.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm an F1 fan but I'm in two minds about watching the Senna film: I've seen a lot of comments from those in the know (e.g. rannydoscoe, above) suggesting the film is hugely biased towards Senna - an exceptional person but hugely flawed - who ought to bear most of the blame for the problems with Prost. To suggest that Prost was the villain is despicable: the film is unfairly caricaturing a great driver and sportsman. Senna was not a great sportsman, for all his qualities he didn't understand that competing fairly was as important as winning. If I ever see a Senna documentary I want it to be even-handed, to give a proper picture of the man and his approach to racing. I just hope this film's rewriting of history doesn't unfairly tarnish Prost's reputation.

  • Comment number 14.

    I've been a huge fan of formula 1 since around 1995, so unfortunately never got to see Senna racing live on TV. However my love of the sport means I can't wait to see this documentary. Just a shame Cronenberg's formula 1 film about Phill Hill never got off the ground, it would have been very interesting to see his take on the sport.

    My question to the director is this; are/were you a fan of the sport or was it just the man himself who inspired you to make the film?

  • Comment number 15.

    I too am an F1 fan as growing up in Woking, McLaren's hometown, will do to you especially when Senna was their star driver. However, Prost was also a fantastic driver for the team and won the world championship for them, so I do not want him unfairly maligned.

    My concern with these types of docs is them turning a man into something he was not. Was Senna more spiritually in tune then other drivers or past greats like Gilles Villeneuve who also could do incredible things in an F1 car and died tragically at Monza? Senna was also a bad sport at times and I wonder if the audio tape of him punching Eddie Irvine is in it when Irvine had the temerity to unlap himself claiming Senna wasn't driving fast enough (the transcript is on the internet and is rather funny).

  • Comment number 16.

    Small point; Villeneuve died at Zolda. A dull place to die for the one that shone brightest.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks again to an excellent Recommendation once again! If you liked both of these I think Dust to glory (which I had to import as I couldn't find this in the shops or from a U.K online outlet) is amazing. A fascinating documentary of the Baja 1000 race in the Mexico. Has similar themes to these masterpieces

  • Comment number 18.

    "but with all sporting greats he was ruthless and he said himself that he stuck his car in positions that he knew would cause crashes and left it to the other guy to decide wether or not to hit him"

    Ayrton Senna never said anything like that. Thats more or less a quote by Martin Brundle describing what Senna was like to drive against.

  • Comment number 19.

    As a totally non-sports kind of guy (male obsession with football, I mean really?) I'm surprised by just how many sports documentaries I've really enjoyed. Above all, I find them emotionally engaging often on an almost spiritual level, the struggle, the dedication, the overcoming of adversity, both personal and professional can be captivating. If handled well by the filmmakers, these journeys can become narrative gold.

    'Murderball' (2005), 'Muhammad Ali: Through The Eyes Of The World' (2001) and 'When We Were Kings' (1996) are all terrific examples.

  • Comment number 20.

    Oh come off it, Mark. If it weren't the fact this guy died so famously on a stupid race track in a sport you don't even care about, the film would never have been made, and you wouldn't even be talking about it. Why is his life more interesting now that he's dead? I never understood this logic.

  • Comment number 21.

    I almost never see media blogs which move me - this one did, and I plan to see Senna as soon as I can. It's interesting how the media reflects the evolving consciousness of humanity. It's heartening to see, firstly, that beyond the mechanical aspects, a spiritual dimension of the participants is being investigated as a central point of interest - and not ironically or as an amusing sideshow - and secondly, that this internal examination does not occur on the fringes and attract disinterest from the general public, but enters the mainstream and seems to move the spirirt of even hardened media people, which I do not think would have happened 10 or 20 years ago, despite there never being a shortage of genuinely spiritually minded public figures. Wonderful stuff

  • Comment number 22.


    What a ridiculously reductive statement you've just made there. I can't even fathom where to begin.

  • Comment number 23.

    Can't wait to see it!!!!!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Which version did you see Mark.? The 106min truncated version or the full 3hr edit? The long one is the best.
    Rannydoscoe mentions 'Amadeus'... the relationship with Senna/Prost is in many ways comparable to Salieri/Mozart (in Peter Shaffer's imagination) and this was how I sold 'Senna' to my wife (who despises all Sport with a vengeance). 'Senna' is easily the best documentary I've seen this year. It's a transcendental, profoundly moving experience and I'm glad you liked it too Mr.K.
    p.s. Saw 'Wake Wood' last night... the by far the best of the three recent Hammer releases although, in tone, it seemed more Amicus than Hammer (that's good btw).

  • Comment number 25.

    Just listening to the podcast.

    In case you're still wondering; a F1 car has to be under a certain weight. They can make the cars a lot lighter than this minumum weight and still do so they have to add balast to get it over the minimum. TV rights have been a big part of F1 so adding a camera would be compulsory for everyone and would not make any impact to the performance of the car as it would be part of the added balast.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello Mark,

    Another documentary style film that is totally gripping is Baja 1000. I have 0% interest in sports in general and motor sports in particular but this film had me welling up by the end because it focuses on the human stories. Has plenty of impressive footage too though of course! The race has multiple catagories of vehicle racing through some of the most amazing terrain. But it's the focus on the people, in particularly the indigenous population and the effect the race has had on there communities, as well as the stories of the individuals and families involved in the race itself, that makes it work as a film.

    A real gem I thought.

  • Comment number 27.

    And nobody had to die to make Baja 1000 a moving story, so I'm sure the fact that Senna died tragically is not the only thing that makes Sennasational work as a film as I_am_I suggests above.

  • Comment number 28.

    I know you don't like Cannes but I've really missed your coverage this year. From what I've gathered this has been one of the most exciting Cannes in a while with out bursts from Von Trier, a best Actress for Kirsten Dunst, a Win doe Terrance Mallik and we had no one to report this to us! Other media outlets just dont have what it takes - please do a special Cannes blog / report for us!

  • Comment number 29.

    A truly great film, for which I only have one criticism. For me, the Eric Comas crash summed up essence of Senna. Here was racer who believed he was made by God to win Grands Prix, stopping his car to risk his own life to potentially save that of another. All the complexities and contradictions of a man wrapped up in one moment. It shouldn't have been left for the end credits.

  • Comment number 30.

    Although I capriciously indulge in a few famous sports, Formula 1 would probably be situated the farthest from my radar. However, Asif Kapadia’s film about the Brazilian legend seems really interesting and exciting; this is despite the ashamed lack of knowledge I managed to achieve and keep up throughout my life concerning Ayrton Senna himself.
    The end of the trailer I viewed online gave me tingles, and as for the claims that his death is the unique selling point, I doubt even Werner Herzog could create a compellingly riveting documentary about any other racing driver should one suddenly perish. In fact, if Jenson Button kicked the bucket, it would only elicit the thought: Oh, Jenson Button … he looked a tiny bit like Tom Hardy.

  • Comment number 31.

    "the fact that Senna died tragically"

    Senna didn't die tragically. Senna died predictably and preventatively.

  • Comment number 32.

    Alina. Predictably? You mean you knew the crash was going to happen; on that day and at that corner? Preventatively? Not sure of your point, here. Do you mean he should not have been racing, or that no one should race cars at high speeds? Or perhaps that anyone who takes risks in life automatically disqualifies for sympathy?

    The word 'tragic' essentially means 'very sad'. So you don't think his death was very sad? I'm sure you felt very clever when you pressed the 'post comment' button. Your comment, however, just outs you as glib and dim.

    Don't bother penning a reply, having read the above and as a result of gleaning an impression of the type of person you are, I am utterly disinterested in you and your views on life, and my questions were rhetorical.

  • Comment number 33.


    Can you please ask him why the in car sounds are not synchronised throughout the movie? When he accelerates, brakes, changes gear, etc they don't match up.

    The most ludicrous is in the 1991 race where they make a big deal about him winning without changing gear, while the incar video has gear change sounds!

    People who do not know how to drive a car may not care, but to any male this kind of distracts from the immersion.

  • Comment number 34.

    The more I hear about it the more I'm looking forward to this one. Motorsport seems to get short changed by movies; 'The Last American Hero' with Jeff Bridges, and an old IMAX film about Indycar called 'Super Speedway' (with Paul Newman narrating) are just about the only films I can think of that treat racing as any more than an activity for hotheads or idiots with a death wish. Steve McQueen's Le Mans and Frankenheimer's Grand Prix are usually held up as the two classics of racing movies and they are amazing historical documents but they are also lacking in plot and characters are frankly really dull to watch between the racing sequences.

  • Comment number 35.

    just saw this. what a film, def up there with the best of the year so far. i can't remember a more gut wrenching finale to a movie.

  • Comment number 36.

    I was really appreciative for the positive review. Now I've seen it twice (I'm seriously into F1 and I hadn't been to the cinema in 15 years), I know that this is one heck of a movie. This cross over point, where a film involving an interest, may, trigger an interest in film.

    Thanks for the good (and justified) review.


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