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I spent quite a while last night, staring at a blank “Add New Post” window, trying to figure out how best to explain the way Senna is superior to other movies in every possible respect.

Yeah, okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Whatever, Robyn — like you don’t sit in front of your computer dabbing tears from your eyes while watching YouTube clips of Donington 1993. What kind of standards are we really talking about, here?”

Well, fine, don’t listen to me. Listen to any person who’s been lucky enough to see this movie, F1 fan or not. They’ll tell you how amazing it is, and they’ll probably be much more coherent than I am in the process. So, fine! Just go! I’ll be right here, doing my usual blithering.

As I walked home from the PATH station last night, I was trying to think of a good metaphor to express how Senna affected me in way different from other documentaries. Not being particularly adept at thinking up good metaphors, I was forced to settle for analogy that sort of gets the point across but is still pretty inadequate: This movie is to other very excellent documentaries what an inspired impressionist painting is to a very well technically executed hyperrealist painting.

After I see what I would consider to be the typical very excellent documentary, I have thoughts and emotions that can often be summed up as, “Wow, I never knew about those things — or at least about the full extent/impact of those things — and now I do!” After the Senna film, once I had gone and shut myself in the bathroom briefly to regain my composure, I thought, “I feel like I’ve lived part of another person’s life.

I don’t want to downplay the effectiveness of the former, more conventional type of documentary, but I think its impact is qualitatively different. The on-board race footage, the overheard conversations, the scenes with family and friends — the overall effect of Senna was to make the viewer’s role feel almost participatory. We weren’t sitting in a theater watching and learning; we were there, taking part. Everything felt incredibly personal and immediate.

Throughout most of the movie, I was entirely immersed in the story — but every once in a while, I would find myself suddenly thinking, “How the hell did they get footage like that?” I can’t even begin to imagine the time and effort that had to have gone into this project. As others have talked about in their reviews of the movie, it did not feature a stream of spoken narration over a series of illustrative film clips and interviews. In Senna, it was the clips themselves — the original archival material — that formed the narrative structure of the movie. To accomplish this as brilliantly as Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey did must have required an unparalleled combination of filmmaking expertise and love of the subject. I know little to nothing about conventions in documentary filmmaking, but this was entirely different from what I, at least, had seen before. What Senna conveyed was not merely information or a moving story; it was emotion and passion and a real sense of what an extraordinary man’s life can mean, both to others and to himself.

The thing that makes me sad is that so many Americans will have no idea what they’re missing. Most people I talk to here have never even heard of Ayrton Senna and have no interest whatsoever in F1 or any other type of motorsport. I honestly believe, though, that this is the sort of movie could make converts of people. At the very least, it could plant the seeds of interest in their minds. How could anyone not be fascinated by Ayrton Senna, his story, and the sport he loved, especially shown to us the way it has been in Senna?

So what’s it going to take to get other Americans into theaters to watch this movie? An Academy Award? Me walking around wearing a sandwich board? (Okay, yes, that might have the opposite of the intended effect.) All I can say is that you need to see this movie. And then you need to tell your friends to see this movie. And then you and your friends need to tell everyone they know to see this movie. I’ll be starting my campaign today. (Sans sandwich board.)


6 Responses

  1. Great impressions, I feel the same way.

  2. I am an American who happens to love F1 racing and I am disappointed that it doesn’t have such a large following in the US like NASCAR & INDY. I moved away from it following the death of Aryton Senna and with the making of this documentary, I find my interest renewed in the sport. I so hope Senna is released in the US so other Americans can see what a wonderful person and great driver he was, and becoming interested in following Formula1. Thank you.

    • I really, really hope so, too. Being an F1 fan in the US can be a pretty lonely pastime, can’t it? (And I can’t even imagine how lonely it would be without the internet!)

  3. Dear Robyn, it really does sound like you’re Senna infatuated. But professional help is at hand worry no more – there is a cure!

    We would like to invite you to join us all here:


    Congratulations on a simply wonderful post! We’re all going insane climbing the walls waiting for the film to hit Europe & the US lol

    Kind Regards,

    • Hmm, on Facebook, eh? Maybe I need to reconsider my anti-Facebook sentiments. ;-) When I do, yours will be the first group I join!

      Thank you so much for reading my post! I was going nuts waiting to see this movie, too. Now I can’t wait to see it several more times. I hope you’re able to see it soon if you haven’t yet!

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