“Senna” is a Compelling Racing Documentary… About People
I just finished watching the documentary Senna about the legendary Brazilian Formula One race car driver, Ayrton Senna, and was really moved despite the fact that I initially had no interest in watching a movie about a race car driver. It gave me a moment for pause.
I think it’s easy sometimes to dismiss movies that involve certain topics (like Formula One racing), because you think they just won’t interest you or relate to your world. But what I’ve realized over the years by being more open to which films I’m willing to at least give a chance (i.e. first 15mins. on Netflix streaming) is that the best films, particularly docs, are HUMAN stories about life that transcend the context of the story.
They are stories of love, loss, triumph, tragedy, ambition, greed and all the other things that make up the human drama of life. And that’s what really keeps an audience glued to the screen even if the backdrop of the story is a sport, profession, city or culture we know (or care) nothing about to begin with. At the core of a good story are always the basics of human drama and emotion and when told well – that’s always compelling. And ultimately through humanizing the participants, we come to develop a new appreciation for that which we initially had no understanding or interest in.
60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt summed up the philosophy that made that show one of the most successful and longest running tv shows ever when he said that 60 Minutes does’t do stories about issues…they do stories about people. I’m paraphrasing it here, but it’s a profound philosophy that I think all media storytellers should adopt, because it’s what gives us the power to introduce our audience to new worlds, experiences and issues as seen from the only perspective that matters – the human perspective – of our characters and doc subjects.
If you ask me if I wanted to see a movie about two eccentric old ladies on Long Island, I’d say “Nah”, but I liked Grey Gardens, because it’s actually a fascinating story of a complex mother-daughter relationship and people living their own reality.
If you asked me if I want to go see a movie about a new style of dancing taking root in the roughest neighborhoods of L.A. I’d probably pass, but I loved the movie, Rize, because it was about underdog’s learning to express themselves, develop pride and create their own cultural movement.
If you offered me a free ticket to a movie about inner-city lesbians in New York, I’m sure I’d pass, but Pariah was easily the best indie film I saw all year, because it was a classiccoming of age story that anyone who’s survived high school and dating can relate to. And such is the case with dozens of other great movies that eventually found their way into my Netflix cue or lured me into the theater, despite my initial disinterest.
And so it is with Senna, which isn’t about Formula One racing, so much as about one humble man’s quest for perfection and the jealousy, national pride, workplace politics, spirituality and other things that happened as a result of that quest. And somewhere in there I think there was even some Formula One racing, but the racing is really just the backdrop of the compelling human dramas that anyone can appreciate and understand…even if you don’t even have a driver’s license.
What film have YOU been pleasantly surprised to like once you actually saw it?
Trailer for Senna