With the award-winning documentary Senna about to be re-released on Blu-ray, its director can’t help but be amazed at the film’s reach in the USA.
The 1-hour, 45-minute movie features raw behind-the-scenes footage of the late Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who lost his life in a crash May 1, 1994, while leading the San Marino Grand Prix. That it’s made waves in a country that knows little about Formula One racing is the ultimate compliment to director Asif Kapadia.
“To think that the film came out nearly two years ago and it’s still traveling the world and still speaking to people,” Kapadia said Tuesday. “It’s really been a joy.”
He knew for the film to get acclaim he would have to make a splash in the USA — where NASCAR is king among motor sports. (“They’re the only country in the world where nobody knows the ending,” Kapadia remembers thinking.)
So he introduced the film at the prestigious 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City.
“I met people that drove 1,000 miles to see the film. I met people that flew to Salt Lake City from Washington, D.C., to see the film,” Kapadia said. “Because they thought this might have been their only chance to see the film.”
It won Best Documentary at Sundance, and the film took off. On July 10, it will be released on Blu-ray. Though sales numbers for the DVD weren’t available, they are reportedly strong for a film its size with little to no marketing — mostly word of mouth and social media.
So, how can a film almost entirely containing 1980s and 1990s non-digital footage translate to high-definition TV ?
“The sound is better,” Kapadia said. “And you can … blow it up to a cinema screen at home.”
Senna took three years to edit, and Kapadia and his team had to sift through 15,000 hours of material. He was authorized by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to use 40 minutes of that footage.
Tireless editing got the film down to seven hours — 380 minutes over Ecclestone’s allowance. “Legally, we could not afford to make the film,” Kapadia said.
Attorneys convinced the commercial-rights-holding Ecclestone to allow 80 minutes at no extra charge.
“He was very, very good to us,” Kapadia said. “It’s probably something Bernie doesn’t want a lot of people to know, because of his reputation.”
Many scenes from the film, including Senna’s final corner at the Imola circuit in Italy, were profoundly emotional. But to Kapadia, one of the clutch scenes for viewers was the three-time world champion’s victory at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, his first win in his native country.
Senna drove the last part of the race with his car stuck in sixth gear and was shown in exhaustion and pain after the race and on the podium.
“That sound, that growl he makes when he wins and he can’t get out of the car … ,” Kapadia said. “If you know his story, if you know where the film is going, the powerful image of what he puts his body through to win for the fans, to win for the people at home, is incredible.”
No F1 driver has died on-track since Senna in 1994.
But the news Tuesday that female F1 test driver Maria de Villota was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a testing crash in London was a jarring reminder that in cars that can travel close to 200 mph, safety isn’t a guarantee.
“They’re always just on the edge, aren’t they?” Kapadia said. “It could have happened so many times. A few inches that way or that way, and that’s what can happen.”
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