I recently had the chance to see a special pre-release screening of the Senna movie and since people have constantly been asking me for my opinion of it I figured its time to put my thoughts down on paper. Since the movie was shot entirely using archival footage it is being classified as a documentary though since there are no talking heads and only period accurate is used it can also be called a movie and depending on your point of view it has very different reviews
As a Movie
As a movie it is absolutely brilliant especially if you have limited knowledge of Ayrton. The director has done a masterfull job of weaving together clips from thousands of hours of FOM/Teleglobo/family/fan footage to create this powerful story of a brilliant driver fighting his way through F1. The movie has an excellent pacing and does not throw too many racing terms around which keeps the movie esy to understand for non-motorsports fans. The single most amazing thing for me is that he keeps you in your seats despite the fact you (the f1 fan) know exactly how the film will end. I highly recommend everyone watch this move and that you take all your non-racing friends to watch it as well.
As a Documentary
As a documentary though several of the movie strengths become immediate weaknesses. Chief among which is how the movie depicts Prost as a bad guy while Senna is shown as a pure but misunderstood genius. The truth as we all know is that Senna did plenty on unsavory things himself and many of his own peers did not like his driving style. Autosport recently posted a 1986 interview (subscription required) with Nigel Mansell where he says about Senna:
“Next time he does that, I won’t move. If he wants a very big accident… If he puts me in that position… All I will say is that I’m a driver, I’m a professional, I’m paid by my team to do my job, and if he wants to carry on being crazy, that’s up to him. At the moment I’m trying to avoid everything. I don’t want to get near him. I don’t really want to race with him. With Alain or with Keke, everybody I’ve known in F1, there’s never been a problem when you race properly together. But Senna has demonstrated to me that anyone who tried to overtake him he has complete disregard for, and he’ll knock them off the road if he has to.
“The other day I hard someone comparing him with Villeneuve, whom I knew very well, and it’s an insult to Gilles’ name to say that Senna is anything like the man he was. Gilles was a brilliant driver, but also a totally fair one.”
The film also misses several significant points in Sennas life which will annoy the F1 fan who is looking for a documentary experience. For eg:
- Stefan Bellof was catching Senna faster than Senna was catching Prost at Monaco 84
- Beating Prost by 1.4 sec in Monaco 88 qualifying
- Senna breaking the San Marino 89 agreement with Prost
- Senna generally putting people in the position to cause accidents. The Jackie Stewart interview clips begins to talk about it but they basically brush it away.
It also has relatively little actual track footage though I can understand why they would want to remove it from a film made for the mass market who dont necessarily appreciate the skill needed to lap Monaco.
All in all I think that if you approach this film as a movie you will have a great time and if you look at it as a documentary you will be disappointed. I’s suggest watching it on a big screen with some non-motorsports fans to get the full impact and experience of the movie. Also the director said that the DVD/Blu-Ray will have an extra hour of interview footage that is fairer to Prost and makes him look better than in the theatrical release. He also said to wait and purchase the british version of the movie since the current versions are in Portugese.
And as a final tidbit I’ll leave you with my recording of a 50 min Q&A session with director Asif Kapadia after the screening where he talks about how the movie came together including the process of shooting a movie with only archival footage, getting access to Bernies archive, showing the movie to the Senna family, extended footage in the DVD/Blu-Ray, writing the music before making the movie, etc…