Alvin: Ailey–Pioneering Gay African American Choreographer

Many know the name Alvin Ailey, but how many know the person?

Ailey’s commitment to searching for truth in movement resulted in pioneering and enduring choreography that centers on the African American experience.

Director Jamila Wignot’s biography offers access to the elusive visionary who founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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


Jamila Wignot

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.

Lauren DeFilippo

Producer Lauren DeFilippo is a documentary director and producer based in New York. Her short films—most notably Clean Hands, The Here After and Detroit Party Marching Band—have screened at numerous festivals, including Slamdance, Hot Docs and CPH:DOX, and have been featured on The New York Times Op-Docs and Eyeslicer II. Her work has been supported by institutions such as the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms, Sundance Institute and IFP DocumentaryLab. Lauren co-produced the Emmy-nominated Into the Canyon for National Geographic. Her recent directorial feature debut, Red Heaven (co-directed with Katherine Gorringe), follows six people as they live for a year inside a NASA psychological experiment to simulate humanity’s first outpost on Mars. In addition to producing Ailey, Lauren is currently directing Free Money, a feature-documentary about the world’slargest universal basic income experiment now underway 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, SXSW and IDFA. She was the recipient of the Best Editing award from the International Documentary Festivalin2016 for How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change) (directed by Josh Fox, with a premiere at Sundance 2016). Her other editing credits include Critics Choice 2020 award winner Mr. Soul! (directed by Melissa Haizlip and Samuel D. Pollard) and Bill Nye: Science Guy (directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg). She most recently edited We Are As Gods (directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, co-edited with Ben Sozanski).