'Senna' Director Asif Kapadia: 'Intense, Compassionate, Beautiful - Ayrton Senna Had All The Qualities Of A Movie Star' (TRAILER)
Director Asif Kapadia has been swimming in plaudits for his film Senna, released in the UK this summer, which documents in awe-inspiring and moving detail the professional, personal and spiritual crusade of the revered racing driver until his fatal crash in 1994.
But what has meant the most to Kapadia has been the reaction to the film of the Brazilian icon’s family and friends:
"It was very emotional and very difficult for them to watch, because there was lots of material they hadn’t seen before," he remembers. "But they were happy that the film is the measure of the man they knew. They said I had brought out the whole person, which was gratifying. There were lots of tears while they watched. It was obvious he stays very close to them.
"I was also touched that Ron Dennis (Senna's old team manager) said it was an accurate portrayal of his life on the track, what a tough driver he was. And that it seems to have touched lots of people who normally can't stand sport."
The film has been a labour of love for Kapadia, who first sat down to discuss the prospect with Ayrton Senna’s family in 2004. And when Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone unlocked the doors to motor racing’s film archive, it meant hundreds and hundreds of hours of revelatory footage for Kapadia to wade through, and months more of selecting and editing it into just two hours of finished product.
So why was Senna worth so much time and effort to a man previously uninterested in any events on the track?
"Because he was a genius, at the height of his profession, but somehow managed to remain an outsider from the establishment of it all. And he was very serious about his sport, a tough guy on the track, intensely competitive. But outside of the car, he worried for all his competitors, he was incredibly compassionate and gentle with the people around him. And, of course, he had movie-star looks too, and could speak so elegantly and eloquently. So he just had it all."
It must have been very strange for the director to share so much time with someone he had never really focused on before, something Kapadia confirms wholeheartedly:
"Absolutely, I’ve spent so much time intensely studying Senna’s life and the people around him, and who he was - literally hours and hours of footage. It takes over your life, I've even dreamed about him. I've never met the man face to face but I feel I know him now, and how thinks. It's very strange."
Of course, with so much acclaim, Kapadia's film about Senna is now both explaining the myth of the driver and becoming part of it:
"The filmmakers have now become part of his legend," he agrees, "because Senna's family and fans have loved it and thanked us for showing other people how special he was. So I feel an affinity to Senna, and to his family, his ideals, even to Brazil, that I never had before. It's been an amazing journey for us."
Bizarrely, despite all these hours spent living inside Senna’s head, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Kapadia actually shared the experience of driving a Formula One racing car, which he describes as suitably bizarre and humbling:
“It is strange that, after so many hours of watching it, we finally got on the track ourselves.
"I think I was the slowest one out there. I was just trying to survive, get from A to B in one piece, and it was still terrifying. And then you remember that these guys are overtaking each other in those conditions, dealing with the G-force, driving in the rain, thinking three turns ahead. Now I’ve sort of experienced the feeling myself, I am even more convinced that professional racing drivers are supreme athletes, that there's something about them that is truly superhuman.”
Senna is released on DVD on Monday 10th October.