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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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Nigel

Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.
 
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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.

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