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The Senna director, Mr Asif Kapadia, whose previous credits include The Warrior and Far North, explains the challenges he faced when making the film, and why Mr Senna was a driver like no other

Senna is the most exciting, and moving, film you'll see this summer. A feature-length documentary about the life of Brazilian Formula 1 driver, Mr Senna, it has more speed, aggression, danger and tension than most blockbusters can dream of. The combination of Mr Senna's extraordinary story, and the inspired film making of director Mr Kapadia, has produced a movie that won an award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

How did you convince Mr Senna's family to work with you and allow you exclusive use of family footage from his early days?
Manish Pandey, the writer, is a big Senna fan and he pitched our idea to the family. At the end everyone was in tears and Ayrton's sister, Viviane, just stood up and hugged him and said, "You really knew my brother." The big thing was that we weren't getting an actor to play him; this was always going to be a documentary."
How long did it take to make the film?
Four or five years from the initial conversation, and then a good two-and-a-half years of full-time editing and putting it together.
Was it difficult to distil an entire career into 100 minutes of film?
The biggest problem was knowing what to drop. We had a seven-hour cut, a five-hour cut and a very good three-hour cut. It was always a question of what to take out and how to keep the story working so that you are watching a drama with a classic three-act structure.

archive footage, monte carlo, 1984


To what extent did you create a story from the facts of Mr Senna's career?
All we had to do was show what happened. We knew what the ending was, although it was only when we looked at the footage that we realised how epic the closure was going to be. We also knew the middle section would be about his great rivalry, so the thing that took the longest to work out was where we should start the story.
It's unusual for a documentary not to feature any "talking heads". Was this hard to achieve?
We were working with TV footage so we had to do something creative to stop it feeling like a television show. Early on when I looked at the footage I felt I was looking at amazing rushes from a film that I hadn't shot, and it became clear that we didn't need talking heads. The whole idea was to make Senna tell his own story.
Did you get a sense of what he was like as a man?
He put everything towards his career - from the age of three that was all he ever wanted to do, drive fast and beat everyone; that was his answer to every problem in life. Maybe his personal life was sacrificed for his professional life, but he had to win. Even if he was on pole position he went out to drive even faster, because he needed to beat himself. He had an amazing desire to be number one, that's all he lived for, and anything that stopped him drove him nuts.
Has Mr Alain Prost, Mr Senna's great competitor, got over their historical rivalry?
I think it's still going. We went to Prost's house to meet him, and he started by saying, "Everything's fine, we made it up at the end." But the fact was, we went to Paris to interview the four-times world champion [Prost] to make a film about the three-times world champion [Senna]. From the outside it feels like that tension may still be there.
How would Mr Senna be remembered if his career hadn't been cut short?
He would have won the title in 1994 if he hadn't had the accident. His teammate, Damon Hill, was one point away from winning it that season and the only reason Schumacher won is that he crashed into Hill to stop him. And at the end of the season Benetton, Schumacher's team, admitted their car carried illegal technology.
How did you treat 1994's unforgettable San Marino Grand Prix weekend?
There is a change of focus in the film's third act, when, having been talking about years in Senna's life, suddenly we're talking about Friday and Saturday and Sunday. Straight away the audience realises something serious is about to happen.
Finally, what separates the era recorded in the film from today's Formula 1 scene?
Senna was famous at a time when television cameras were everywhere, but before PR kicked in and the guys started to watch themselves. Another important element is that they were men. Senna was 26 when he got into F1 and Prost was older, so they weren't young kids. But it's an exciting time right now in F1, with five world champions competing this season. The last few years have been compelling, whether or not it's down to Bernie [Ecclestone] I don't know, but it always goes down to the wire.

Senna is released on 3rd June in the UK. sennamovie.co.uk

THE TRAILER


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