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Sundance 2011: Tears and thrills from the Formula One track in 'Senna'

January 22, 2011 | 10:30 am

Sometimes a documentary will unexpectedly reach out and grab you by the throat, not giving you a second to breathe. That's that way it was with "Senna," which had its North American premiere Friday night in Sundance's world documentary competition.

Fans of Formula One racing will know at once that this is a film about the legendary Brazilian Ayrton Senna, considered by some to be the greatest driver who ever lived. A boy genius behind the wheel, capable of pushing cars beyond their capacity, Senna won 33 races and three Grand Prix titles before dying in a crash in 1994 at age 34.

Told solely through the use of archival footage, "Senna" is bursting with great racing sequences, many dealing with his bitter rivalry with French champion Alain Prost. But what makes this film so riveting is the remarkable personality of the man himself.

Someone who just flat-out loved to drive, Senna was a purist who had complete disdain for the politics that had to be played in the cliquish Formula One world. Though he drove like the devil, he was a spiritual person who believed deeply and profoundly in a higher power. A philosophical mystic with a jewel thief's nerves and a poet's sensitivity (and good looks), Senna was an altogether remarkable human being.

"Senna" is fortunate in having Asif Kapadia, best known for his award-winning dramatic debut, "The Warrior," in charge. A British director with a keen sense of drama and a gift for narrative drive, Kapadia also had, said screenwriter and executive producer Manish Pandey, the kind of impeccable eye needed to cull 104 minutes of film from 15,000 hours of archival footage.

Though everything about "Senna" took forever -- years to get the cooperation of both the Senna family and the Formula One hierarchy, further years to do the archival research and then to edit -- the result has been extraordinarily satisfying to the team that spearheaded the work.

Pandey talked about showing the film to Ron Dennis, the head of the McLaren racing team, a man known for being unemotional and so conscious of not wasting a minute of time that he has a car and driver waiting for him everywhere he goes.

"After the film ended, Ron Dennis cried for 10 minutes," Pandey said. "Then he sat and talked about Senna for two hours." Such is the power of this man, and this film. 

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Ayrton Senna in the driver's seat in a scene from "Senna." Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Comments () | Archives (58)

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Senna was a genious and a gift to F1. I am anxiously awaiting the U.S. release. I hope it will be widely available, please bring to Williamsburg, VA. Or sell early!

Really hoping that this gets released for the rest of us here in the US

I would love to see the Senna movie in Houston, Texas as well as throughout the USA!

It may generate an interest among race fans to support the upcoming F1 Grand Prix in Austin Texas in 2012....hope so!

A brilliant and brave driver.
I do hope this film comes to New Hampshire so we can get a chance to see it up in the greater Boston area

Please bring this film!

Can't wait to see this. I hope the big theater chains put it on big screens.

does senna movie will be be in mexican teathers??

forever senna.......please bring this film to toronto.....

I would like to see the film, Senna was an artist.

Please bring Senna to the Bijou Film House in Eugene, Oregon. We have a huge fan base. We had the privilege of seeing Senna drive in the US Grand Prix in Phoenix. He is a racing icon!

.....and where will we be able to view this fine film other than Sundance Film Fest ?
I will sure be sporting my Senna logo shirt !

Great driver and great rivalry with Prost made those some of the very best F1 years.

When can we see this movie in the US? Hopefully in Houston?
This kind of documentary can greatly help the take up of F1 in the States.

Please bring this film to NYC.

This film has got to come to Alabama. There are a lot of NASCAR fans that need to see what a great race car driver is made of.

Senna was world-famous, and not just in sports circles...except in the US. More than "some" fans consider him the greatest racing driver who ever lived, in a century of motor racing. When the Brazilian soccer team won the '94 World Cup just 10 weeks later--in the Rose Bowl--one of the first things the players did after the game was unfurl a memorial banner to Senna on the field, making every Brazilian in the world (and a lot of other people) break down crying. Of course the US network showing the game had no idea who he was, and didn't even show the banner. Insular heathens.
The only future release dates in the IMDB (at the moment) are May 12 in Germany and June 3 in the UK (F1 is huge in both countries, getting TV ratings like the NFL in the US). We can hope for around the same time in some US theaters. The more buzz American F1 fans create on public Web sites, the more likely it is to come to a theater near you.

For the two H-Town commentors, I just sent an email to the Alamo Drafthouse folks to request it. Probably our best hope since Angelika closed last year.

Please, please show this tribute in Pittsburgh,PA

An incredibly talented driver with a VERY complex personality. If he had stayed at McLaren he very likely would be alive today. The SENNA Foundation, managed by his sister, is doing great work with young people in Brazil.

Ayrton Senna, the best driver in the world, the master in rain, just a genius.

He was simply the greatest, especially on a wet track, he was " the rain man".

I was 13 years old when Senna past but that was old enough to understand the impact his life and career had not only in Formula One but also on myself. I was born a F1 fan but Senna made me love it. I really hope this documentary gets realeased in the States for us all to revisit the legond that is Ayrton Senna.
Alex Kozlowski - Huntington Beach, CA

I would be very interested in being able to see Senna in my local area in Connecticut.

The film needs to come to the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area!

Please bring this to Bay Area, or anywhere in California!

Movie sounds fantastic. I wanna see it on the big screen! Please release it in the US!

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