NEON made its second acquisition of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, with Jamila Wignot’s Ailey, the moving and intimate portrait of dance legend Alvin Ailey. The film debuted on Saturday to both critical and audience acclaim, being celebrated for its sensorial, rich story that traces the full contours of this extraordinary artist’s life and his connection to the present dance company that bears his name. Weaving together never-before-heard audio interviews recorded in the last year of his life with rare dance performances by the Ailey Company and first-hand accounts, audiences get to experience a piece of Ailey’s genius.
Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Ailey explores the life and work of this brilliant and enigmatic man whose search for truth in movement resulted in pioneering choreography that centers on African American experiences. This resonant biography grants artful access to the man who, at only 27 years old, founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies—the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Told through Ailey’s own words and featuring evocative archival footage and interviews with those who knew him, the film reveals the enduring power of Ailey’s vision by exploring his biography through the creation of a new commission inspired by his life.
Darcy Heusel, NEON’s Head of Impact and Audience Engagement, remarked “Ailey is a searing and inspirational account of a visionary artistic genius who used his gift of dance and movement to express the Black American experience. Jamila Wignot has created an indelible portrait of both the artist and his work and NEON is thrilled to be part of continuing his legacy by bringing this remarkable film to theaters across the country.”
“On behalf of Insignia Films and the entire creative team behind AILEY, we couldn’t be happier to be partnering with NEON,” said producer Lauren DeFilippo of Insignia Films. “NEON has such an incredible slate of films that we’re proud to become a part of, and we look forward to working with them to bring Jamila Wignot’s beautiful rendering of Alvin Ailey’s inspiring and necessary story to audiences nationwide.”
Ailey’s story is one of sacrifice. Possessed by his ambitions, he dedicated himself to his company. He endured racism and homophobia; addiction and mental illness; and the burden of being an iconic African American artist. Thirty years after his death, Ailey’s dream lives on.
Ailey is directed by Jamila Wignot, produced by Lauren DeFilippo and edited by Annukka Lilja. Rebecca Kent served as archival producer while Naiti Gámez was director of photography and Al Malonga was production designer. Daniel Bernard Roumain composed the music.
The film is produced by Insignia Films in association with American Masters Pictures, the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms, ITVS, XTR, Impact Partners, and Black Public Media. Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak, Michael Kantor, Emily Blavatnik, Judy Kinberg, Sally Jo Fifer, Tony Hsieh, Roberto Grande, Mimi Pham, Bryn Mooser, Kathryn Everett, Jenny Raskin, Geralyn White Dreyfous and Regina K. Scully executive produced.
The deal was negotiated by Ayo Kepher-Maat and Jeff Deutchman for NEON and Jason Ishikawa and Shane Riley of Cinetic on behalf of the filmmakers. Dogwoof is handling international sales.
Jamila Wignot’s directing work includes the series The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, which won the Peabody Award, the Emmy Award, and the NAACP Image Award; Town Hall, a documentary portrait of Tea Party activists; Peabody Award–winning Triangle Fire; and Emmy-nominated Walt Whitman. Wignot’s producing credits include W. Kamau Bell’s Bring The Pain; Musa Syeed’s A Stray; and WNET’s The Supreme Court: the Rehnquist Revolution, an IDA Best Limited Series winner.