The excellent documentary “Senna” has just a few screenings left at the Loft Cinema, but if you miss those, make an effort to seek out this film on DVD. A crowd favorite at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this documentary from director Asif Kapadia, tracks the astonishing career of the Brazilian Formula One race-car driver Ayrton Senna. His brief run, as one of the best drivers on the circuit, lasted from 1988 to 1994 and featured some of the most exciting finishes in sport history where he was crowned the world champion three times. What’s remarkable about this documentary is that it was pieced together from existing footage, home movies and period interviews.
This film is fairly riveting, even for viewers who are not versed in the world of Formula One racing. The cast of characters, from eccentric owners to the arrogant FIA president (the sport’s commissioner), to rival drivers is fascinating to watch. Especially of interest is the relationship between Senna and French driver Alain Proust, as they battle it out first as rivals on different teams, and then as teammates.
The inclusion of Senna family home movies helps round out a portrait of the man who made racing his life, but who also became a national hero to Brazil a country that desperately needed someone to lift its collective spirit. It’s hard to imagine an American athlete having as much of an impact on the global stage in this day and age. Michael Jordan’s dominance in basketball may be the closest example, but the international appeal of Formula One racing easily outpaced basketball during Senna’s reign. From the on-board camera work to the pre-race driver meetings, this insider’s look at professional racing is fantastic.