Synopsis : Many know the name Alvin Ailey, but how many know the man? Ailey’s commitment to searching for truth in movement resulted in pioneering and enduring choreography that centers on African American experiences. Director Jamila Wignot’s resonant biography grants artful access to the elusive visionary who founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Directors Statement : Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey—theemotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelmthe senses. As a filmmaker, I am drawn to stories about artists like Alvin Ailey—innovators who tenaciously follow their own voice and in doing redefined their chosen forms. Ailey’sdances—celebrations of African American beauty andhistory—did more than move bodies; they openedminds. His dances were revolutionary social statementsthat staked a claim as powerful in his own timeas in ours: Black life is central to the Americanstory and deserves a central place in American artand onthe world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man,he rose to prominence in a society that made everyeffort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me.
I am inspired by subjective documentary portraitslike Tom Volf’s Maria by Callas and Raoul Peck’s IAmNot Your Negro, and by the poetic cinematic approachesof films such as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight andTerrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. My aim was to blendthese influences into a sensorial, poeticdocumentary portrait.
– Jamila Wignot
Jamila Wignot | DirectorJamila Wignot is a documentary filmmaker based inNew York. Her directing work includes two episodesof the Peabody, Emmy and NAACP award-winning seriesThe African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross(PBS), hosted by Henry Louis Gates and chroniclingthe five hundred year history of African Americans;Town Hall (co-directed with Sierra Pettingill), afeature-length co-production with ITVS following TeaParty activists determined to unseat Barack Obama;and, for PBS’s American Experience series, thePeabody Award-winning Triangle Fire and Emmy-nominatedWalt Whitman. Jamila’s producing creditsinclude W. Kamau Bell’s Bring The Pain (A&E); Sundance award-winning director Musa Syeed’s narrative feature A Stray (SXSW); Street Fighting Men, following the Black Detroiters fighting for the city they love, and The Rehnquist Revolution, the fourth episode ofWNET’s series The Supreme Court, which was anIDA Best Limited Series winner.
Lauren DeFilippo | Producer
Lauren DeFilippo is a documentary director and producerbased in New York. Her short films—most notably Clean Hands, The Here After and Detroit PartyMarching Band—have screened at numerous festivals, including Slamdance, Hot Docs and CPH:DOX,and have been featured on The New York TimesOp-Docs and Eyeslicer II. Her work has been supportedby institutions such as the Ford Foundation’sJustFilms, Sundance Institute and IFP DocumentaryLab. Lauren co-produced the Emmy-nominated Intothe Canyon for National Geographic. Her recent directorialfeature debut, Red Heaven (co-directed withKatherine Gorringe), follows six people as they livefor a year inside a NASA psychological experimenttosimulate humanity’s first outpost on Mars. In additionto producing Ailey, Lauren is currently directingFree Money, a feature-documentary about the world’slargest universal basic income experiment nowunderway in rural Kenya. She holds an MFA in DocumentaryFilm and Video from Stanford University.
Annukka Lilja | Editor
Annukka Lilja is a Finnish-born, New York-based editor whose award-winning documentary and narrative films have appeared on HBO and at major film festivals worldwide—including Sundance, Tribeca, SXSWand IDFA. She was the recipient of the Best Editingaward from the International Documentary Festivalin2016 for How to Let Go of the World (and Love Allthe Things Climate Can’t Change) (directed by JoshFox, with a premiere at Sundance 2016). Her otherediting credits include Critics Choice 2020 awardwinner Mr. Soul! (directed by Melissa Haizlip andSamuel D. Pollard) and Bill Nye: Science Guy (directedby David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg). She most recentlyedited We Are As Gods (directed by DavidAlvarado and Jason Sussberg, co-edited with Ben Sozanski).
Rebecca Kent | Archival Produce
Rebecca Kent is an investigative producer with expertise in archival research, rights and clearances. Hercredits include the award-winning documentary Amanda Knox, which premiered on Netflix in 2016;Crooked Media’s The Wilderness, a fifteen-episodeaudio documentary on the history and future of theDemocratic party; and PBS’s The Black Panthers: Vanguardof the Revolution. She holds an MA inJournalism from Northwestern University.
Naiti Gámez | Director of Photography
Naiti Gámez is a New York-based filmmaker from Miami/Cuba. Naiti has worked as a cinematographer and director on award-winning films and television series. Her film Love, Sadie premiered at the Festivalde Cannes Short Film Corner. Films on which she hasworked as a cinematographer have screened atfestivals worldwide including Cannes, Sundance, Berlin,Camerimage, Tribeca, SXSW, Festival du Cinemade Paris, and Festival de Cine Internacional de Barcelona.Her TV credits include HBO, Showtime, PBS,ESPN, MTV, Discovery Channel, Nova, and Animal Planet.Naiti has also worked with non-profitorganizations in the U.S. and abroad. As a youth-mediaeducator, she’s collaborated with young peopleto produce videos about social, cultural and politicalissues that affect them. She holds an MFA in FilmProduction (Cinematography concentration) from theUniversity of Texas at Austin.
Daniel Bernard Roumain | Composer
Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) is a prolific and endlesslycollaborative composer, performer, educator,and social entrepreneur. “About as omnivorous as acontemporary artist gets” (New York Times), DBR hasworked with artists from Philip Glass to Bill T. Jonesto Lady Gaga; appeared on NPR, American Idol andESPN; and has collaborated with the Sydney Opera Houseand the City of Burlington, Vermont. Knownfor his signature violin sounds infused with myriadelectronic, urban and African-American musicinfluences, DBR’s career spans more than two decades,earning commissions by venerable artists andinstitutions worldwide.
Al Malonga | Production Designer
Raised between France and Cameroon, Al Malonga isa versatile storyteller, production and costumedesigner, and art director based in New York City.After moving from Paris, Al organically built aneclecticportfolio, making it a point to always diversify andget a taste of all the different expressions andplatforms for her art form. Highly adaptable, heraesthetic eye and craft lead her to movies,commercials, but also short films, music videos, independentfeature films, as well as live shows andplays.
Michael Kantor | Executive Producer for American MastersPictures
Michael Kantor joined American Masters as the series’executive producer in April 2014 and founded itstheatrical imprint, American Masters Pictures, inJanuary 2016. American Masters Pictures premieredthree films at Sundance Film Festival in 2019: MilesDavis: Birth of the Cool, N. Scott Momaday: Words. From a Bear and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am; and other Sundance premieres include Norman Lear:Just Another Version of You, Maya Angelou: And StillI Rise (Peabody Award) and Richard Linklater –Dream is Destiny. Recent programs include Sammy Davis,Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, Bombshell: The HedyLamarr Story, Itzhak and Raúl Juliá: The World’s aStage. An Emmy- and Peabody Award-winningfilmmaker, Kantor’s PBS series include Broadway: TheAmerican Musical (hosted by Julie Andrews), Make‘Em Laugh (hosted by Billy Crystal) and Superheroes(hosted by Liev Schreiber), and he co-wrote thecompanion books for each series. He served as executiveproducer of Give Me the Banjo with SteveMartin and distributes the American Film Theatre series,including Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance,starring Katharine Hepburn, and Chekhov’s Three Sisterswith Laurence Olivier. Kantor serves as a Tonynominator and oversees the American Masters Podcast.