Stoke Newington award-winning director gears up for Senna movie

When motor racing legend Ayrton Senna took the FI world by storm Asif Kapadia was glued to his television watching the high octane races.

A sports-mad boy growing up in Stoke Newington Mr Kapadia remembers watching the thrilling races at home with his family and knows exactly where he was when Senna was killed in a racing accident at Imola, Italy, in 1994.

“I was watching his career from my home in Stoke Newington. I remember exactly how it was.”

He said the young Brazilian was a sporting star with an incredible ability and “he transcended his sport”.

Mr Kapadia has just directed his first ever documentary film which is about Senna’s life, using archive footage of his extraordinary career and voice-overs from people who knew him, including fellow driver and team-mate Alain Prost who was a pallbearer at his funeral in 1994.

The movie Senna has just garnered the World Cinema Audience Award Documentary at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

It won against all the odds – Mr Kapadia said he was told that it never stood a chance there, which is why he was determined to show it at the festival.

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“I had never made a documentary before. It was great that we were winning in the US where we were told there was no audience for this film.”

But he said he had been determined to make a movie which would appeal to people who had no interest in sport, but would be captivated by the drama of a determined young man compelled to excel in his career and driven to achieve more.

“There’s a lot of emotion. People said how inspiring he was. He would not quit. The film appears to stay with people.”

He added: “What drove him was to be the fastest, to be number one. He was not necessarily racing other drivers. He knew he was better than them. He would go out again just to be faster than himself.

“He would keep going out when others would give up.

“That drive is why people find him so inspirational.

“There is a moment when he could not physically get out of the car. He had to be helped out. It’s a very moving scene.”

Senna burst on to the Formula One scene at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1984 competing against some of the big names of the motor racing world – Nigel Mansell, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.

It was Senna’s sixth Formula One race and he started the event in 13th place but roared through the race, taking Prost on the 32nd lap. He lost out on a technicality but the race made his name, although it also set the course of his career with behind-the-scenes politics defeating him off the track.

Senna went on to win three world championships and became known as a maverick, but also a fearless driver and he was a hero, particularly to his home audience in Brazil.

And Mr Kapadia said he had extraordinary skill.

“The biggest thing for the driver is not going fast but keeping the car on the track. He had his way of controlling the car. The car was twitching every time it goes round the corner.”

People watching Mr Kapadia’s career will also see a drive for achieving the best.

As a child growing up in Tyssen Street he confesses he was more interested in sport and playing cricket with his friends at Stoke Newington Common than in watching movies.

Born in 1972 at the Mothers’ Hospital in Clapton, he went to Tyssen and Homerton House schools and his family still live in Hackney.

“Back in those days there were five cinemas and living in Stoke Newington this guy used to come round with a suitcase with a VHS video recorder for my family to watch films. I used to go out and play sport.”

But when he was studying graphic art at the Royal College of Art he was asked to help a friend out who was making a short film.

“I was carrying metal boxes in the rain. I went to help out in Cornwall and I felt that I had run away with the circus.”

His first short film, The Sheep Thief, won awards including the second prize at the 1998 Cannes International Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the 1997 European Short Film Festival and best director award at the Poitiers Film Festival.

His first feature film was also shot in India. The Warrior won many awards including two BAFTAs for outstanding British film of the year and the Carl Foreman award for special achievement by a director in their first feature.

Asked to pitch a subject idea for a movie about his birthplace he said: “The Olympics – that’s the story.”

n Senna opens today. It is screening across London including at the Rio in Kingsland High Street and the Barbican. The Rio is also hosting a Q and A session with Asif Kapadia following the 6.15pm screening on Sunday June 5.