Film's In-Car Footage Captures Racer's Final Lap
No Formula One racing driver has died while pursuing this knife-edge sport since 1994. That’s a laudable testament to the commitment to safety that has enveloped F1 since May 1 of that fateful year, when the Tamburello curve at the San Marino Grand Prix claimed the life of 34-year-old Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna.
But Senna’s legacy and impact go far beyond F1’s ensuing safety record, as evidenced by Asif Kapadia’s award-winning documentary “Senna,” which has nabbed top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival and is in select theaters across the country.
What is striking about “Senna” is that it plays more like a scripted drama than a traditional doc, thanks largely to a key decision by Kapadia. Those few people who add narration to the film -- including Senna’s sister Vivane and rival-turned-friend Alain Prost -- never appear on camera. That means the film’s true narrator is Senna himself, an intense presence who appears on screen constantly in a series of archival clips that, in many cases, have never been seen before thanks to years of negotiations with Senna’s family and F1 brass. And those scenes include one real shocker: Senna’s in-car camera on his fatal lap.
“We found instantly that this really played as a three-act movie, with Senna’s rise to fame, his Ali-Frazier-like duels with Prost, and finally his untimely death,” said Kapadia from his London home. “We wanted him to tell his own story.”
Kapadia, a sports fan who didn’t consider himself an F1 aficionado, says what appeals about Senna the man was his fierce dedication to winning as a means to reach a higher level of consciousness.
“Senna talked a lot about God, so much so that he stopped doing so with the English-language press because people would make fun of him, but the Brazilians understood,” Kapadia said. “We show that faith really was a big part of him, that for him racing was a journey to perfection. He wasn’t really racing against other drivers, he was racing to both find the limit of what the vehicle could do and to achieve an almost out-of-body experience that got him closer to God.”