It's the winner of the audience award for a world cinema documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it also won the audience award for best international feature.
It is SENNA, the 104-minute documentary about the three-time Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna da Silva, whose ten-year reign at the pinnacle of motorsports ended on the bloodiest race weekend of the modern F1 era at San Marino, Italy on May 1, 1994.
Scheduled for release in New York and Los Angeles on August 12th, SENNA shows us more of the racer's personal life than perhaps we knew; shows us how, in his professional life he came through the ranks to earn work first with the small Simtek team, then Lotus, McLaren and finally Williams in a meteoric, albeit short career.
Following his untimely death, the family was approached by many who wanted to make films about their son's and brother's life and death but it took the producers of this film to allow them to open their archives and show previously unseen family footage of Senna. There is also film from Formula 1's archives. Producer James Gay-Rees had been inspired to document Senna's career by his father, who worked for a company that sponsored Senna's black Lotus in 1985.
"My dad would come back from these various races and say, 'He's not like the other young motor racing drivers. He's very sure of himself. He's got very strong beliefs. He is very different and very intense,'" Gay-Rees would reveal.
It was that intensity that brought about the great rivalries in which Ayrton Senna was a participant. His bouts with Alain Prost, of course were paramount among them but the Brazilian battled Nigel Mansell and others in the F1 fraternity. He also fought Jean-Marie Balestre, head of the FIA, and whose French ancestry always found him on the side of Prost.
Watching Ayrton Senna's rise from the karting ranks in Brazil and the U.K. to the top of the Formula 1 fraternity brings back many memories and emotions for this writer. I always admired his tenacity but felt there were occasions when the Brazilian tipped the edge. At the same time, having met Senna, I saw the gentleness and gentility within the driver and his respect for motor racing. I also saw how he inspired those around him. I saw his closeness to God.
Ayrton Senna was more than a race car driver to the people of Brazil. At a time when the country was in such turmoil, he alone seemed able to bridge the gap between rich (which he certainly was, even before he began to drive in F1) and the immense number of poverty-stricken people in the countryside. He brought them together in his life and in his death.
The events of that fateful weekend do not take precedence in this film, thankfully. They're told as part of the tale, as first Rubens Barrichello, Roland Ratzenberger and finally Ayrton Senna have their massive accidents. Was it due to the designs of the cars, due to mechanical failures or due to human error that only one of this trio is still alive (and driving in F1)?
Those questions remain.
The beauty of this film lies not only in its telling of the tale of one man's life but also in the life in which he was so engaged. Senna, the man, was one of a kind; SENNA, the film, keeps his legend moving forward and the memories and emotions of an exceptional man strong, almost 20 years on.
© 2011 Anne Proffit
Senna in the Simtek, 1984