Kino Lorber has acquired North American rights to The Trials of Muhammad Ali, the feature documentary from Kartemquin Films (the company behind a few documentaries we’ve covered here, like The Interrupters and the Bill T Jones profile A Good Man).
Directed by Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground) and executive produced by Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) for Kartemquin Films, the film made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.
As a recap… According to the press release announcement, the documentary is not a conventional sports documentary.
As befitting its extraordinary and often complex subject, the film examines Ali’s life outside the boxing ring, beginning with the announcement of his deeply held Islamic religious beliefs which were a source of controversy, and his decision to change his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. It explores his refusal to serve in the Vietnam war (after his conscientious objector status was denied) on the grounds of protesting the racial injustice at home, and captures his passion and anger in interviews and TV appearances culled from a rich variety of archival sources.
The acclaimed documentary world premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, interweaves the political threads of Ali’s controversial stance on Vietnam, legal challenges as a conscientious objector, his relationship to the Nation of Islam and ongoing fight for racial justice, all but sacrificing a celebrated boxing career to sustain his principles. The film opens in New York at the IFC Center on August 23rd with a national rollout planned through the summer and fall.
The story is told through archival footage of Ali’s supporters and spiritual leaders including Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, as well as opponents of his views such as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. The documentary also features new interviews with those who know and have worked with Ali, including his brother Rahman, his wife Khalilah Camacho-Ali, sports journalist Robert Lipsyte and Louis Farrakhan.
The deal was negotiated by Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon on behalf of Kino Lorber, and Cinetic Media on behalf of the filmmakers.
Richard Lorber commented, “This is an astonishing work that pulls no punches when it comes to what Ali was really fighting for. Bill Siegel and the Kartemquin team have recast the legend of Ali with brilliant insight into the political reality that only makes his iconic stature more compelling and enduring.“
Director Bill Siegel said, “We had a number of distribution options but have great respect for Kino Lorber’s history and standing within indie film. They are a great choice for this film, and all of us at Kartemquin are looking forward to working with them to get the film out there.”
The film had its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, and honored as Official Selections at AFI Docs, Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Festival Do Rio, and Montclair Film Festival, all in 2013.