Cannes documentary makers focus on Jackie Stewart, Pele and Ali

Thu May 23, 2013 9:08am EDT
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By Mike Davidson

CANNES (Reuters) - Three years after "Senna", the hit film biography of the late Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna, sporting documentaries about Jackie Stewart, Muhammad Ali and Pele are competing for attention at the Cannes Film Festival.

In "Weekend of a Champion", the Polish-French filmmaker Roman Polanski follows Stewart, his long-time friend, as he prepares to drive in the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix, at a time when the risks to drivers were far greater than they are now.

Polanski said he had forgotten about the film, which was screened at the Berlin film festival in 1972 but never released, until a recent call from a processing lab holding the footage.

He decided to resurrect it, adding a sequence where he and Stewart reunite more than 40 years later to discuss how the sport has changed.

"Back in the day, it was much freer. People could practically, or almost, walk onto the track. Now it's a bit NASA, a bit Martian," Polanski said after the revised version premiered in Cannes on Tuesday.

Three-times world champion Stewart, now 73, said Formula One had always been at the sharp end of technology, "but I think the racing is still as good today as ever, maybe even better".

"The animal is the same, the driver has the same mentality, the same type of person," he told Reuters in an interview.

British director Stephen Frears' documentary "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" aims to bring public attention to the boxer's court battle after he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, a stand that made him known far beyond his sport.   Continued...

Director Roman Polanski (L) and former Formula One champion driver Jackie Stewart of Britain pose on the red carpet as they arrive for the screening of the film "All is Lost" during the 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman