sxswf: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Senna

The Formula One documentary comes to the new Formula One city

sxswf: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Senna
Photo by Richard Whittaker

Considering the US Grand Prix is scheduled to begin in Austin 2012, there was something fitting yesterday about having a Williams Cosworth FW33 race car at the Long Center, and the new documentary Senna at the Paramount.

Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna is an iconic figure, and the crew managed what Michael Mann, Antonio Banderas and Oliver Stone had all failed to achieve: Bring the story of arguably the greatest driver the sport had ever seen to the screen. "I'd often wondered how long it would be before someone did or attempted to do to something like they did," said United States Grand Prix boss, ex-race car driver and self-confessed Senna fanatic Tavo Hellmund. What they caught, he said, was "the purity and the pure genius" of his driving.

Senna is not just a documentary about a sports legend. That said, Senna was the best there was at what he did. When he died in a tragic accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, he was only 34. Yet in his ten year F1 racing career he left an almost unmatched legacy: Three world championships, 41 race wins, 80 podium positions. More importantly, he took his role as a national hero for Brazil seriously. Senna charts his impact on the sport, his bitter feud with fellow driver Alain Prost, and his off-the-track fights with Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile president Jean-Marie Balestre. Hellmund said, "I was so grateful that someone finally found a way to show the truth of what the nature of the relationship was here, and how Senna was really taken advantage of."

Through sheer perseverance, the film makers got unprecedented access to the legendary F1 archives, as well as thousands of hours of TV interviews, home movies and news footage, According to director Asif Kapadia, it was a five year process of wading through 15,000 hours of material. "So much footage, our computers kept blowing up," he said.

Senna's work ethic was a good role model for them. Kapadia said, "There were many times that Ayrton was already in pole position, but he would still go out to beat his time. Even when no-one else could beat him, he would go out because he wanted to beat himself."

Take how Senna became the master of racing in the rain. As a young driver racing go-carts in Brazil, he was a genius – right until he was humiliated in his first race in wet conditions. Hellmund said, "Every day after school, every time it would rain, he would run as fast as he could to the cart track and practice in the rain over and over and over again, and then no-one in the cart world could beat him in the rain."

Senna has a repeat screening Thursday March 17 7.15pm at the Paramount Theatre

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SXSW, SXSW Film, Tavo Hellmund, Ayrton Senna, Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile, Jean-Marie Balestre, FISA, FIA, Alain Prost

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