Alvin Ailey was a trailblazing pioneer who found salvation through dance. AILEY traces the full contours of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for the truth in movement resulted in enduring choreography that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, director Jamila Wignot weaves together a resonant biography of an elusive visionary. 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. Director Jamila Wignot joins us to talk about the remarkably creative choreographer who never stopped searching for the truth and clarity of dance and how his desire to mentor and nurture others will insure an artistic legacy matched by few others.
Director’s Statement – Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey—the emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the 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’s dances—celebrations of African American beauty and history—did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort 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 portraits like Tom Volf’s Maria by Callas and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, and by the poetic cinematic approaches of films such as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. My aim was to blend these influences into a sensorial, poetic documentary portrait. – Jamila Wignot
About the filmmaker – Jamila Wignot is a documentary filmmaker based in New York. Her directing work includes two episodes of the Peabody, Emmy and NAACP award-winning series The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (PBS), hosted by Henry Louis Gates and chronicling the five hundred year history of African Americans; Town Hall (co-directed with Sierra Pettingill), a feature-length co-production with ITVS following Tea Party activists determined to unseat Barack Obama; and, for PBS’s American Experience series, the Peabody Award-winning Triangle Fire and Emmy-nominated Walt Whitman. Jamila’s producing credits include 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 of WNET’s series The Supreme Court, which was an IDA Best Limited Series winner. – For more go to: insigniafilms.com/Ailey
91% on Rotten Tomatoes
“His legacy should be … how his dancers continue to breathe life into his choreography, a nod to his words. No one should miss Ailey. Though categorized as a documentary, the film captures creativity at its best.” – Wendy Shreve, Featuring Film
“Alvin Ailey sacrificed the pain, joy, and memorable moments of his life as a tapestry for his dance genius that lives with us always captured in a layered, emotional doc by Jamila Wignot” – Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic