Senna will not win an oscar // Thoughts on the 15 film documentary shortlist

No Oscar love for Ayrton.

Once again the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences have baffled me. Over the weekend they released their shortlist of the 15 features which will be vying for the oscar for Best Documentary Feature. They are…

Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Buck
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Jane’s Journey
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Pina
Project Nim
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Undefeated
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here

Now first of all, I am absolutely thrilled to see Hell and Back Again in there. It was the best film I saw at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival last spring, and the film-maker Danfung Dennis was a true gent as well as an incredibly talented man. Dennis is a stills photographer who shot Hell and Back Again on a Canon 5D Mark II with a custom-built rig (see his twitpic), creating the most immersive shots I’ve ever seen be they in a feature film, documentary or computer game. It’s well worth watching the trailer if you have a minute to spare.

While I’m sad to see Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee and Constance Marks and Philip Shane’s Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey ommited from the list, there is no omission more glaring than that of Asif Kapadia’s Senna.

The movie tells the story of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna’s life from Sao Paolo to his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Whether you’re a fan of Formula One or not, this is an absolutely flawless documentary with more heart and emotion than any scripted movie. Its “characters”, “plot” and structure could have made for a really solid biopic, but the wealth of archive footage and interviews available meant there was no need. If you haven’t seen this, then see it. Laugh at his ladies. Boo the Frenchman. Marvel at his driving. Cry at the crash.

It did well at the box office and scored incredibly well with the critics and yet it looks like once again this has no bearing on the Academy’s choices. There had even been talk of Senna receiving a nod in other categories like editing and sound, but this now seems unlikely after its omission from the list for documentaries

It has happened before, with Grizzly Man, Hoop Dreams, Why We Fight and King of Kong all being notable examples that have failed to find any traction.

Now and again a film like Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, Murderball or Supersize Me sneaks in there, but nowadays it seems they like to have this as Oscar night’s “ISSUES” category. Last year alongside Banksy’s film we saw films about war (Restrepo), the environment (Waste Land and Gasland) and the economic crisis (Inside Job).

This longlist of 15 comes from a longer list of 124 entrants which the Academy’s documentary branch screening committee then whittle down. We’ll find out which five make the nominations list on January 24th.

We’ll complain about that too.

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  • http://twitter.com/RoyTheBoy_ Roy Brindley

    In making ‘Senna’ Manish Pandy
    and Asif
    Kapadia did not only design a faulty jigsaw
    puzzle, they also built their very own maypole and they are not afraid to dance
    around it.

    filmmakers’ Asif
    Kapedia and Manish Pandey take a page from the BBC’s 2007 ‘Royal Family at Work’ playbook,
    blatantly distorting the truth, knowingly stating a scene is not what it is
    depicted as being in order to dramatise and sensationalise their
    documentary.

    What a year it has
    been for the United Kingdom. The Queen’s
    60th Jubilee was celebrated with lavish ceremonies, London hosted the Olympic
    Games and, to a lesser degree but all important to you, the reader, a
    British-made documentary, Senna,
    bagged a haul of awards and accolades including two BAFTAs.

    Using the maxim “if in doubt put on a concert” both the Queen’s
    Diamond Jubilee and Olympic closing ceremony featured a performance by some
    original members of a band called Madness.

    Those in their late 40’s may recall an earlier incarnation of them
    as, for a brief spell in 1980/81, they enjoyed substantial domestic sales
    success. At their peak one of their
    albums reached No.2 in the UK although that popularity was not mirrored
    elsewhere in the world and, in the musical hotbeds of North and South America,
    they failed to breach the top 100.

    32
    years hence the band has released more compilation albums than studio albums
    whilst also cashing-in on four box sets and live albums. These days, with plenty of advance notice and
    good promotion, they might sell out Skegness Butlins in mid-summer.

    Madness were rolled-out at
    the Olympics to symbolise all things Great British, as were the left-hand-drive
    Bentleys and diesel-spewing London taxis.
    I suppose they are all British as is another Olympics performer Mike
    Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame.

    Oldfield has lived in Spain, LA, Monaco and Switzerland all in an
    attempt to avoid paying UK taxes or, as according to his official line, to avoid
    smoking bans in public places.

    Then
    there is the group Iron Maiden who
    boast four UK No.1 selling albums including their latest offering which reached
    the top-spot in 28 countries.
    Additionally eight of their albums have reached the top-20 in North
    America.

    Combined it gives them album sales approaching 100 million. When not on world-wide tours performing
    before two million fans a year, waving the Union Flag and filling 60,000 seater
    stadiums, they live in the UK and pay UK taxes.

    It
    leads me to ask, why this Great British export was not invited to perform
    alongside the likes of Madness before a global audience at the Olympics. It was, after all, an event designed to
    showcase all that is great and good about Great Britain.

    Clearly someone decided their music was unpalatable to their
    particular taste therein denying the performers a rightful opportunity to
    showcase one of Great Britain’s most successful musical
    exports.

    At
    this juncture doubtlessly you believe I’ve been a fan of Iron Maiden since the year zip and there
    is nothing more I like doing than letting my hair down and letting the dandruff
    fly while head banging to the tunes of their multi-platinum selling Number of the Beast album?

    Incorrect. I am an advocate
    of fair play and honesty. I believe
    people tasked with the responsibility of showcasing successful musical exports
    need to be unbiased.

    Similarly journalists need to report facts in a fair and balanced way
    regardless of their personal opinions.
    Being a journalist is not a licence to be bigot, that luxury is only
    bestowed on columnists. They are a very
    different beast.

    Unfortunately, sometimes, we prefer to believe a lie rather than the
    facts. In fact we don’t even want to
    know the truth. Fully aware of human
    natures failings, the cliché “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good
    story” is still way too often employed by those desperate to attain notoriety
    and income via readership or viewership.
    Sensationalism and character assassination sells but tampering with the
    truth and distorting facts to better yourself…

    Currently the BBC is under the spotlight over a case of who knew
    what, what they said, why they said it and, most importantly, what they knew and
    why they said nothing.

    This is not a first
    for the corporation or its documentary makers.
    In July 2007 a trailer, previewed only to journalists, for a
    behind-the-scenes documentary titled: Monarchy, The Royal Family at Work
    showed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth apparently
    storming out of a session with a photographer.

    It was an untruth; the shot was not what it was depicted as
    being. In fact it was not even filmed on
    the same day. Once the deliberate
    depiction of scenes out of sequence was brought to light, by the Royal
    Household, the implication of a potential five million BBC viewers being
    deceived led to the commissioning of public report, the Wyatt Report.

    When Wyatt’s report hit the fan, the BBC’s Controller, Peter
    Finchman, his head of publicity Jane Fletcher, and the creative officer at
    production company RDF Media, Stephen Lambert, all flew out of the back of
    it.

    Frightening to think of so much furore when it was, after all, just a
    trailer aired behind closed doors. This
    was not a feature film-style documentary distributed globally by the colossal
    Universal Pictures which picked up BAFTA’s for Best Editing and Best
    Documentary.

    Let’s cut to the chase here.
    I am clearly referring to the multi-award winning UK-made documentary
    titled Senna which has sold over
    600,000 DVD copies and grossed £3.2 million at the box office in the British
    Isles alone.

    The highest grossing British documentary of all time is, in places,
    dubious and in one instance, blatantly bogus.

    Even
    through the fuzzy prism of old footage, if you delve deep enough beyond evidence
    I found mysteriously disappearing before my eyes, I think you will agree the
    truth shines through.

    Undoubtedly the task of depicting a ten year career in a 100 minute
    documentary has to be difficult, some would say futile. However that should allow for the fact
    pattern to be rigidly adhered to.

    Sadly there were innuendos from the outset in Senna.
    There are too many to list. I
    would simply say Alan Prost, who may be French, has been served a massive
    injustice. His name and reputation,
    deservedly built-up over a 13 year Formula 1 career was destroyed in this
    hatchet job, the quality of which could surely be matched by a 16-year-old
    college student with access to the internet and an Apple-Mac
    laptop.

    Most
    are already aware of how FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre’s quote of “the best
    decision is my decision” was bastardised from a longer sentence which had a very
    different meaning.

    Senna was not leading by an ever increasing margin at Monaco in 1988
    because of his dominance. It was due to
    Alan Prost, the only rival with a similarly competitive car, being tucked-up
    behind Gerhard Burger and losing seconds each lap as a result.

    I
    digress.

    Senna
    is
    divided into four distinct parts: His
    first race win, his first title, his last race for McLaren which was his last
    race win, and his tragic death.

    It is act
    four, Ayrton Senna’s parting from Ron Dennis’ team, where filmmakers’
    Asif Kapedia and
    Manish Pandey take a page from the BBC’s 2007 Royal Family at Work playbook, blatantly
    distorting the truth, knowingly, stating a scene is not what it is depicted as
    being in order to dramatise and sensationalise their
    documentary.

    The scene begins with
    Ayrton walking from a hotel elevator. On
    screen a graphic appears stating AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX with a byline:
    FINAL RACE OF THE ’93 SEASON.

    Within one second the scene changes to a conversation at the back of
    a garage between Ron Dennis and Ayrton.
    It is a touching exchange when a fallout earlier in the day is
    discussed. Dennis suggests the argument
    is put behind them and Senna do his very best in the forthcoming race in
    Adelaide. The Brazilian agrees and
    states it he will “do exactly as I always tried [to win]”.

    The
    scene ties in beautifully with what happens next; Ayrton Senna wins the
    Australian Grand Prix. The documentary’s
    scenes move on to Ayrton returning to Ron Dennis, depicted like an overwhelmed
    winning parent on sports-day, and their discussion together are revealed by
    Senna.

    Of
    course there is one monumental problem.
    The Australian Grand Prix took place in Adelaide on November 7th 1993 and
    this heart-to-heart conversation didn’t take place that day. In fact it did not take place at that Grand
    Prix, or any part of the previous Grand Prix in Japan on October 24th.

    The
    footage, described as happening moments before the Australian race, the last
    that Ayrton Senna was to win, or complete, was actually lifted from the
    television series “A Season with
    McLaren” made by John Gau Productions and broadcast, ironically, by the BBC
    in December 1993.

    Their documentary shows that conversation happening at Estoril,
    Portugal, prior to the start of the Grand Prix on September 26th. As the camera pans out to see the Portuguese
    circuit I would be inclined to believe them.

    A Season with
    McLaren was a seven part series of which I own an old VHS copy. I also easily found all parts of it on
    Youtube. Similarly I had little problem
    finding Senna’s writer Manish Pandey
    on the Internet. Pandey is very active
    on the world wide web and has had little hesitation using it as a tool to
    promote his documentary and boast of award nominations and
    accolades.

    Therein it was easy to contact him and ask if he were aware of this
    scene not being from the Australian Grand Prix as stated. The response was amazing. Within 24 hours of posing my question the Season with McLaren

    documentary, showing evidence which contradicts his Senna documentary, was completely
    removed from Youtube.

    There were over a dozen uploads of the particular episode, titled A Man for all Seasons, which could have
    been viewed. Overnight all now showed a
    blank screen featuring an apology and explanation that the video had been
    removed. In some instances ‘Tim Bonython
    Productions’ were listed as claiming the clip featured copyright
    infringements. I suggest if you were to
    delve a little deeper you may find a connection between this production company
    and the Pandey/Kapadia collaboration.

    In
    some countries A Season with McLaren
    was made into a 14 part series and, amazingly, all 13 other parts of this series
    can be readily and abundantly watched online.
    The one exception is the one segment, the one piece of the jigsaw puzzle
    lifted from it and inserted incorrectly into the Senna documentary.

    Regardless I continued to pose my questions to Pandey but the emails
    and tweets remained unanswered.
    Ultimately I pointed out the inaccuracies on the bottom of a blog, which
    waxed lyrical at Senna’s vast array
    of awards, written by Formula 1 journalist Adam Cooper who boasts attending
    every F1 GP since Japan in 1994. This
    too disappeared within the space of hours and Cooper promptly blocked me from
    following his Twitter updates for good measure.

    With
    a BAFT award for Best Editing and another for Best Documentary accepted by Senna’s makers I continued to ask myself
    if this disappearing segment of “A Season
    with McLaren” was coincidence.
    Personally it would not sit well with me accepting an award for
    journalism knowing part of my story was a lie.

    In
    April of this year I took myself off to Brighton where the Senna’s makers were staging a BAFTA
    Masterclass – explaining what it takes to make a BAFTA winning documentary –
    strangely, possibly understandably with a camera in hand, I was refused
    admission and refused the right to pose questions to Pandey or
    Kapadia.

    …and then, as if out
    of the blue, a tweet from Pandey in essence stating: “Ron Dennis was
    cool about us compressing Portugal footage with that from Japan and you should
    be too”.

    A confession that this was no innocent editorial mistake but a
    deliberate distortion of the truth which was justified because it was sanctioned
    by Ron Dennis?

    It is an act which left me, a paying cinema goer, defrauded. Universal Pictures are no different to a
    corporation such as the BBC. When they
    take peoples money they too have a responsibility to the living, dead and paying
    audience.

    The BBC’s out-of-sequence documentary never made it before a viewing
    audience yet it led to an enquiry, naming, shaming and resignations. Senna’s makers have happily collected awards
    and made a lot of money on the back of their out-of-sequence flick.

    Values such as
    fair play, decency and even the truth clearly count for little in this modern
    televisual era but, at the end of the day, after Manish Pandey has
    polished his vast array of accolades and awards, he has to sleep at
    night. I wish him well with that.

    There is a quote from Ayrton Senna in Senna: “If you no longer go for a gap
    you are no longer a racing driver”. I
    declare if you no longer document the truth in chronological order you are no
    longer a documentary maker.

    Should you wish to
    see the Portuguese Dennis/Senna conversation you can do so by clicking here:
    http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjQzODMyOTk2.html skip one advert and
    move forward 14.30sec. It would appear
    the removal of this A Season with McLaren
    is, thankfully, out of reach due to its oriental
    origin.

    Should you wish to
    see that same conversation happening weeks later at a different Grand Prix (as
    depicted in Senna) you can do so
    here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUEl58xsrH4&feature=relmfu 29.30sec

    Pandey’s next
    screenplay is based on the relationship between 1958 F1 champion Mike Hawthorn,
    Peter Collins and Enzo Ferrari. It is
    currently being finalised.