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Scripting a cultural dialogue through offbeat cinema
SATARUPA PAUL  25th Mar 2012

Ayrton Senna in a still from Asif Kapadia’s Senna

n '78, I came to Europe, to compete for the first time. It was pure driving. It was real racing. And that...that makes me happy."

The halted English with a prominent Latin American slant teases you; the excitement in the voice prepares you for the story that is to follow. The subsequent visuals, dialogues and sequences that constitute the one-and-a-half hour documentary film, take you on an overwhelming and, surprisingly, intimate journey through the life, and death, of the legend that was Ayrton Senna.

Released in 2010, Senna was directed by Asif Kapadia, an award-winning British filmmaker of Indian descent. After winning two BAFTAs and several other international awards, in addition to receiving immense critical acclaim, the film was screened in Mumbai and New Delhi this week, as a part of an initiative called Film Forward. Conceptualised by the US-based Sundance Institute, Film Forward aims to promote cultural dialogue through independent documentary and narrative films as well as through discussions with the filmmakers themselves. In its second year now, the programme is also travelling to China, Arizona, France, Morocco and other countries. "It will showcase 10 extraordinary films chosen from our collection at Sundance — films which have the capacity to influence and encourage, films which people from anywhere in the world can relate to," says Jacqueline Carlson, Manager, Film Forward.

As we learn about different cultures through these films, about different ideas...we realise how similar we all really are. — Linda Goldstein Knowlton

As Senna zips through the tracks of Interlagos at the Brazilian Grand Prix of 1993, a sport-crazy nation rises in ecstasy to celebrate the win of their national hero. The excitement that the scenes generate among the audience puts Carlson's words into perspective. Kapadia elaborates to Guardian20, "Brazil, like India, loves its sports and sportspersons. It was a developing country just out of recession when Senna started making it big. His popularity made Brazil look good in the international circuit. He gave them hope."

In one scene, Senna says, "Brazil is a country with a lot of natural beauty. But it has a lot of problems — social, economical..." and you begin to comprehend how the film touches a chord with even those who are not ardent F1 followers.

Another film among the 10 that was screened in India is called Somewhere Between and tells the story of four teenage girls living in different parts of the US and in different family set-ups. The one thread that unites them all is that they were all adopted from China when their birth parents could not keep them, following China's 'One Child Policy'. "It is inspired by my own daughter who was adopted from China," says Linda Goldstein Knowlton, director of the film. "I wanted to explore the identity issues they face as they grow up. Their stories also project the struggles that they as teenagers have to deal with, just like any other teenager all over the world."

She feels that the cultural dialogue that Film Forward presents can make people learn more about each other. "As we learn about different cultures through these films, about different ideas...we realise how similar we all really are. And once we can understand those similarities, we can respect each other better."

Kapadia agrees and adds, "Also, when you create a film or an art or write a book, you want it to be seen or read by as many people as possible. As Film Forward travels all over the world, it would give us, the filmmakers, an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and hopefully, create a positive impact."

Senna, with its larger than life subject — a cultural icon who was celebrated and worshipped not only in Brazil but all over the world — and brilliant narration of sequences that recount the rise of Ayrton Senna and his subsequent death, unmasks the face behind the star. A Brazilian mourner comments following Senna's death, "Brazil needs food, electricity, medicines and a little joy. Now that joy is gone forever," and you realise that the film and the initiative have succeeded to achieve what they had set out to.

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