Asif Ka­pa­dia on do­ing jus­tice to For­mula One le­gend Ayr­ton Senna,

For­get the wacky con­spir­acy the­o­ries: the doc­u­men­tary cast its net wide to find rare footage that en­abled Ayr­ton Senna, the ex­tra­or­di­nary Brazil­ian who died in a Grand Prix crash in 1994, to nar­rate his own story, as di­rec­tor Asif Ka­pa­dia tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

IT WAS a ghoul­ish YouTube mo­ment long be­fore any­one thought to share videos with strangers on­line. In 1994, when For­mula One cham­pion Ayr­ton Senna crashed his car into a wall at a speed of more than 200 miles per hour be­fore a world­wide au­di­ence of some 300 mil­lion view­ers, no one could have fore­told how widely the mo­ment of im­pact would be sub­se­quently dis­sem­i­nated and dis­sected. In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math a con­tro­versy en­sued, as fans and pun­dits ques­tioned whether the ac­ci­dent was caused by driver er­ror or faulty equip­ment.

Fif­teen years on and the “truths” are out there. A thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­try has sprung up around the Brazil­ian hero and his tragic ac­ci­dent; there are bi­ogra­phies, ha­giogra­phies, vig­ils, TV shows and, most of all, in­ter­net ru­mours.

Par­tic­u­larly pre­pos­ter­ous ac­counts fac­tor in Hitler, Goebbels, Max Mosley and the plot of The Boys From Brazil. Senna’s car’s teleme­try “black box” had sev­eral data chan­nels phys­i­cally cut, ar­gue be­liev­ers; the Ital­ian authorities im­pounded the smashed ve­hi­cle for more than 10 years; how can you say Mus­solini wasn’t linked? Oth­ers have puz­zled over the steer­ing wheel, G-force, an­gle of im­pact and a date of death, they say, was cho­sen to co­in­cide with the foun­da­tion day of the Il­lu­mi­nati in 1776.

Senna, an award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary about one of For­mula One’s most fa­mous sons, gives such con­spir­acy the­o­ries a wide berth. Asif Ka­pa­dia’s riv­et­ing film, com­posed en­tirely from archive footage – much of it culled from hith­erto un­ex­plored For­mula One vaults – al­lows the late driver to tell and en­act his own story di­rectly to cam­era.

“I had that in­stinct re­ally early on, but it took a long time per­suad­ing ev­ery­one else,” says Ka­pa­dia. “If you look at all the suc­cess­ful doc­u­men­taries – Kevin Mac­don­ald’s Touch­ing the Void or James Marsh’s Man on Wire – they all have talk­ing heads as ref­er­ence points. This is what a good cin­ema doc­u­men­tary looks like. But I’m not a doc­u­men­tary film-maker. And the ex­ist­ing footage of the sub­ject was so pow­er­ful. My no­tion was I can in­ter­view peo­ple but I can’t in­ter­view Senna. And if I can’t in­ter­view my main char­ac­ter it’s go­ing to be­come just an­other film where ev­ery­one gives their opin­ion. We had to find a way for him to be the hero and nar­ra­tor of the film.”

Ka­pa­dia, the ac­claimed Bri­tish di­rec­tor of The War­rior and The Re­turn, had lit­tle dif­fi­culty in find­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary im­ages to il­lus­trate an ex­tra­or­di­nary life. Senna’s en­tire ca­reer – from his early kart­ing suc­cesses in Brazil and teenage for­ays into Bri­tish For­mula Three races – was heav­ily, nay ob­ses­sively chron­i­cled.

“It’s the na­ture of that sport,” says Ka­pa­dia. “It’s a TV sport watched and fol­lowed by mil­lions of peo­ple. You al­ways have cover shots. Once we worked out what we were try­ing to say it was a ques­tion of find­ing the right footage in Sao Paulo or Ja­pan or Monaco or wher­ever. By se­lect­ing key races we could cut be­tween wide shots, close-ups, he­li­copter shots – just as if we were mak­ing an ac­tion film. It’s a com­ment on the na­ture and scale of his fame that all the clips we needed were al­ready out there.”

All told, Ka­pa­dia’s team – in­clud­ing Tim Be­van and screen­writer Man­ish Pandey – have worked some seven years on the in­tri­cate pro­ject. The sub­ject, says Ka­pa­dia, gave them a free pass with the late driver’s fam­ily, For­mula One authorities and mo­tor sports mogul Bernie Ec­cle­stone, who granted ac­cess to his own per­sonal video col­lec­tion.

“Bernie’s bunker was amaz­ing. Ba­si­cally once the team had per­suaded the fam­ily that this was go­ing to be a film made by Senna fans – not about the sport or an un­der­dog vic­tory – then ev­ery­body said yes, in­clud­ing Bernie. His stuff was a rev­e­la­tion. We got to know by the name of the cam­era op­er­a­tor what kind of footage we had. A cou­ple of French names kept com­ing up be­cause they were bril­liant cin­e­matog­ra­phers. There’s a scene with Senna ar­gu­ing with For­mula One authorities that was shot in a way that would have made The Hurt Locker’s Barry Ack­royd proud. It was a 45-minute se­quence from a press con­fer­ence, never in­tended to see the light of day, but the cam­era op­er­a­tor put in re­ac­tion shots and medium shots just purely out of pro­fes­sional pride.

“Our main prob­lem was edit­ing all the ma­te­rial down. We man­aged a seven-hour Di­rec­tor Leon Gast mulled over footage for some of Ali and Foreman’s Rum­ble in the Jun­gle for al­most 22 years to as­sem­ble this tremen­dous, 1996 Academy Award win­ner. Jonathan Caou­ette’s sub­lime 2005 ac­count of grow­ing up gay and Texan with a bipo­lar mother – one of the great­est movies ever – was cob­bled to­gether from old home movies, record­ings and pic­tures, and edited with the free soft­ware that comes with a MacBook. Er­rol Morris, the great­est doc­u­men­tar­ian of the age, is best known for in­ti­mate in­ter­views, quirky sub­jects and re-en­act­ments. This Academy Award­win­ning film shows he’s just as deft in the ar­chives. Joey and Dee Dee had al­ready left for the big high-school bop in the sky when Jim Fields and Michael Gra­maglia made their smash hit mu­sic doc. Can­did tes­ti­monies from sur­viv­ing Ra­mones are aug­mented with long-lost footage. Ti­mothy Tread­well was a fa­nat­i­cal self-chron­i­cler, con­ser­va­tion­ist and ur­sine en­thu­si­ast un­til he and his girl­friend were killed and eaten by a bear in 2003. Di­rec­tor Werner Her­zog pieced to­gether Tread­well’s video diaries into this in­trigu­ing film. Cru­cially, he omits the death scene.

Leather le­gends: The Ra­mones

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