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Developing Factual Ideas

Asif Kapadia Explains Why Senna Isn’t a Documentary

When you pitch a TV show you have to be able to describe it so that potential funders know what you are talking about. One way of doing that is to use short-hand words, such as format, reality competition show, or more recently occu-reality (shows based in the work place) and comedy-reality (real characters in real situations, cut for humour).

One of the most contested genres is documentary with purists insisting that it is one thing (pure observation with no intervention from the director, perhaps) to others playing more fast and loose with the term, happy to include biopics, essay-films and character-driven narratives.

Here, Asif Kapadia, director of Senna, one of 2011’s best documentaries, explains why he doesn’t consider it to be a documentary even though that’s exactly what it looks like to the audience:

In Documentaries at IDFA 2012: A Health Warning I attempted to classify different documentaries into a number of types and came up with five main types: contemporary history using eyewitness testimony/archive; underdog/struggle against the odds; investigation/quest; observational/unfolding narrative and ensemble portraits linked by a single geographical place. In hindsight, Senna could stake a claim to each of these categories to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps this breadth of storytelling themes within one film was what contributed to its wide appeal?

 

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