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Conning your friends and loved ones into seeing a great film (about Formula One)

Image Courtesy Working Title FilmsJalopnik has posted a handy dandy guide to convincing others, who probably don't maintain the sort of fevered emotions about racing that we do, that they should go and see Senna. We here at The Austin GP are ardent supporters of this film, not just because it's about the demigod Ayrton Senna, but because it is quite simply a great film. You should go see it at any and every opportunity, then send Asif and Manish an email thanking them for doing the impossible - making the esoteric accessible and captivating to the average person.

Be sure to check out the interview with Asif following Senna's premiere at SXSW.

Anyway, as promised, here's the link to Justin Hyde's three-point methodology for tricking others into doing what they ought to, anyway... go out and see Senna in theaters right now.

Exclusive: Interview with Senna Director Asif Kapadia - #SENNAxSW

On Sunday I got the chance to sit down with Kevin and Asif to talk about how social media has affected the release of the movie, our growth of The Austin Grand Prix, and the Formula One community. The Social Media Club House at SXSW in Austin, Texas was the venue, as Social Media Club hosted a full four days of live Ustream broadcasts from the house. We had hoped to patch in the film's writer, Manish Pandey, to join us in the discussion but were unable to do so. Enjoy...

Exclusive: Interview with SENNA Director Asif Kapadia from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.


Behind The Scenes Gallery


DNQ - Senna

Ayrton Senna could have been a god. Not necessarily if not for the new documentary about his racing career, but if not for technology… at all. Let me rephrase - in a world where television, photography or print did not exist for some inexplicable reason, but race cars did, Ayrton Senna would have been a god. Here's the proof, thanks to director Asif Kapadia and his documentary Senna.

So first things first - the obligatory "you don't have to be a fan of Senna or even a fan of Formula 1 or even a fan of racing or even a fan of sports at all to enjoy this film" disclaimer. Maybe in the past you've been coerced by this sort of lead-on by a friend or significant other, only to suffer and moan. I asked my wife while leaving the Paramount Theater if she enjoyed the movie. My wonderful, accommodating, supportive wife, who has absolutely no interest in racing whatsoever (strike whatsoever - I think she might have an unhealthy and/or impure appreciation of Mark Webber and Jenson Button), responded, "How could you not?" From across the theater, my friend Eric, whose interest in sports essentially begins and ends with the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, hallowed be thy name, flashed two thumbs up (I'm not sure if this wasn't in honor of Roger Ebert, also in the audience), then pantomimed tears falling. Then two more thumbs up, so as not to end his review on an unmanly note.

If you want to read a professional review of the film, I'm not going to discourage you one bit. I'll try to give you a bit more than, "It was good," but ultimately my appreciation of Senna derives from the perspective of how it immortalizes Ayrton Senna, a god among men, as a human being. If you're disinclined to be all gung-ho about a documentary, I have some encouragement. Kapadia foregoes the typical talking head, television style interview with someone who knew Senna recounting their experiences and memories. Instead he lets the characters, primarily nemesis Alain Prost, McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and of course, Senna himself, tell the story, more or less chronologically, and in the moment. With hundreds of hours of footage available, from interview to candid behind the scenes to in-car, supplemented by more recent interviews specifically for the film, the narrative of Senna's rise to the pinnacle of the racing world is already extensively documented and well known, at least in a mythological sense. The drive and focus of that narrative then is a masterstroke of tireless research and judicious editing. Senna is undeniably a good film, full stop.

Senna, as the protagonist in the drama, develops as thoroughly as any of the best films you could name. One of the most controversial moments of his career, the infamous shunt with Alain Prost (our lead antagonist) at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, is suddenly recontextualized from its usual portrayal, with the background to color the incident (accurately, you could argue) as a righteous middle finger to the sport's governing body, and particularly its then demagogue of a master, Jean-Marie Balestre. In many circles, purists will cluck and bemoan the unsporting intent of Senna's defiance by charging for a gap and holding a line that would likely, and in fact did, retire both drivers from the race. The crash brought cheers from the audience in the theater. Senna went on to clinch the championship. Unsportsmanlike or the very illustration of competitive purity? There's room to argue but the context underlying the whole ordeal is undeniable. 

My favorite sequence, and the one that honestly caused something to get in my eye, was the 1991 Brazil Grand Prix. Piloting a broken car, but having never won in his home country, Senna drove an impossible drive to cling to his victory. If the story ended here, it would be Roy Hobbs slamming the ball into the lights. Senna winning in Brazil exemplifies my theory that athletic competition can be art, or at least artistic. Senna's drive was a pure expression of the human spirit, and it is beautiful to behold. Seriously, truthfully beautiful. If you could package this segment of the film, a model of Micelangelo's David and maybe a recording of  Mingus Ah Um, and send it all into space for aliens to understand what humanity is and is capable of, you wouldn't be doing the universe a disservice.  Watching the footage of him on the winners' podium in sheer agony, try and fail, then try again to hoist his trophy over his head, and knowing that he wasn't doing so out of a need to satisfy his ego, but to salute his country and its citizens - it's moving. Best scene in the film? Discuss.

But this is all a bit like the Titanic, isn't it? Most racing fans know what happened to Ayrton Senna on May 1, 1994. We know every race, every victory, brings us closer to The Monster at the End of This Book. Raise your hand if you didn't know racing cars was a dangerous profession. Few serious accidents are shown in the film. Only the outcome of Martin Donnelly's career ending but amazingly not fatal 1990 crash is shown, his broken body lying motionless on the circuit. It's a nauseatingly frank shot. Rubens Barrichello's airborne shunt during practice at Imola in '94 that ranks in the majority of morbid but somehow requite top 10 crashes of all time lists. Roland Ratzenberger's fatal crash at qualifying for the same race. And finally Senna. It's jarring, even when you know it's coming.

Throughout the film are shots of Niki Lauda. Although he's never named either in narration or by subtitle, the burn scarred face of the three-time world champion, and still competitive driver at the time, is a frequent, looming reminder of the supposedly bygone age when the life expectancy of F1 drivers was not the job's mot vital selling point. But in the "modern" era, no one expected the greatest driver possibly in the history of the sport could be snuffed with so little effort on the part of the universe. To keep things in  cinematic frame of reference, it's like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Departed taking one in the brain the second the elevator doors open. Except this is real life. It was tragic and will always be tragic, like the last man to die in the battle before a truce is called, but that doesn't make it senseless. If the Spirit of Racing Future floated down to Senna and handed him a signed declaration of his impending death, he'd likely have strapped into his wobbly Williams and tempted the Almighty's resolve. Because that loving, thankful, but nonetheless defiant middle finger to the institution he loved so much, whether we're talking racing or God, defined him as a human.

There's more to be said about Senna the citizen. The man who fought for Brazil. The man who established an educational foundation for poverty stricken children. The man who never denied or belittled his faith or his family, even at the height of his fame. This film isn't about those areas of his life, really. It's about Senna the driver, which encapsulated all of those qualities, virtues and vices. Go see it at 7:30 Thursday night at the Paramount.

SENNA Wins the Hearts of Austin

The Paramount Theater in Austin, TXJust a few hours ago, the first Austin screening (#SENNAxSW) of the film SENNA,  Directed by Asif Kapadia and written by Manish Pandey, premiered here at the SXSW Film Festival. Unfortunately Writer-Executive Producer Manish Pandey was unable to attend the premiere, but thanks to Kerri's diligence and careful negotiations, we were able to help host Asif here in Austin and allow him to unveil his team's work for a very enthusiastic audience. 

With a series of confusing lines out front of the Paramount Theater, fans lined up several hours early to see the film.  To give a comparison to past events, SENNA is the first SXSW Film screening to sell out advanced tickets in 24 hours (clearly, the buzz about the movie is catching on).  Despite these hurdles, the theater opened and the 1200 seat theater began filling up...

Senna Director Asif Kapadia with Kerri and Kevin of The Austin Grand Prix

SENNA is unlike most documentaries audiences have ever seen.  The film focuses on the perspective of F1 driver Ayrton Senna, unveiling his life in motorsports and his fight to be world champion.  After combing through 15,000 hours of archives, Asif and Manish obtained enough footage to provide meaningful and informative scenes, largely avoiding "talking heads" to narrate the story and provided Ayrton's voice instead.  From his early days in F1, to the McLaren years and finally the uncertain times with Williams, the story of the greatest driver that ever lived is compelling and thrilling.  The film's technical quality is superb, and the film sequences in the later years of Senna's career are especially high in detail, conveying the liveliness of Ayrton on screen like you've never seen before.

The film is downright epic in the world of motorsport and it's reputation as an audience favorite, solidified at the recent Sundance Film Festival by the award for Best World Documentary, was clearly seen here today in Austin.  A winning combination of tears and celebratory cheers from the audience,  this film is truly something to rave about.

Conversations after the showing all centered around one phrase, "loved it," and not a single negative or even neutral comment was heard by Kerri, or anyone else in our entourage.  Non-F1 fans, including a friend of ours we brought along for the premiere, whom knew nothing about F1 before this screening, didn't need to in order to understand this message.  The film transcends racing and tells a great story of a man and his life struggle with passion.

Given these positive reactions, it's clear that this film will continue to inspire and touch patrons, racing fans or not, for years to come.  We know that many of our dedicated fans are hoping to see it soon, and we can tell you that negotiations are in progress to give fans a chance to see SENNA all across America, just no official dates yet.

Director Asif Kapadia during the Q&A session after the screeningFollowing the screening of SENNA, Formula 1 United States hosted a private reception on the terrace at the Long Center for Performing Arts  (Gallery Link).  Tavo Hellmund and Asif discussed the film and answered some questions from Jeff Hahn, the new PR strategist of F1US.  In addition, they brought in a Williams FW33 for guests to get their photo taken by (which we though was a little controversial given the unsettling delicate relationship between Senna fans and the Williams Formula 1 Team), but nevertheless, it was the first F1 car on Austin soil and a great chance to catch a photo of the skyline with a F1 car behind you. 

We'll post a more in-depth review of the SENNA film soon, but probably not till after we sit down and talk with Asif some more about the film tomorrow at the Social Media Clubhouse at 01:30 pm CST (see Kerri's instructions on how to watch it here).