Teatro Auditorium Manzoni > 14:30


Leon Gast


Saturday 29/08/2020


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Muhammad Ali was thirty-two years old when he arrived in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974 to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. Thirty-two is not prohibitively old for a boxer in the heavyweight division. But Ali was an old thirty-two, having survived forty-six fights and won forty-four of them, not always easily. And his opponent was George Foreman, the champion, who was then considered the most fearsome man on the planet – much more fearsome, certainly, than Ali. […] Like many boxing matches, Ali versus Foreman – the so-called Rumble in the Jungle – seemed likely to be a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both. It was hard to tell in advance, and it can be hard to tell, too, in retrospect. Leon Gast, who had made a concert documentary called Our Latin Thing in 1972, had been hired to direct a film about Zaïre 74, the music festival that was supposed to accompany the fight. […] Neither the concert nor the fight generated anything like the ticket revenue that organizers had hoped for, and soon Gast’s project was facing other obstacles to its completion. It wasn’t until the eighties that Gast was able, with help from lawyer David Sonenberg (who would become a producer on the film), to transfer his footage to videotape and begin assembling it into a documentary.
The eventual result was called When We Were Kings, and it focuses on the fight, not the festival. When it was released in theaters in 1996, it was an unexpected hit, and the next year it was the recipient of the Academy Award for best documentary. It is really two films at once: a serious and sometimes unsettling portrait of clashing cultures and mixed motives, and also a funky and picturesque movie about a grand caper in Africa. After all, no film starring Ali in his motormouthed prime can entirely fail to be a comedy, and part of what people love about When We Were Kings is its evocation of the sense of mischief that he generated, even when he was doing something as dangerous as fighting George Foreman. Especially then.

Kalefa Sanneh, When We Were Kings: Ready to Fight, The Criterion Collection, 22 ottobre 2019

Cast and Credits

F.: Maryse Alberti, Paul Goldsmith, Kevin Keating, Albert Maysles, Roderick Young. M.: Leon Gast, Taylor Hackford, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Keith Robinson. Int.: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, James Brown, B.B. King, Don King, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Spike Lee. Prod.: Leon Gast, Taylor Hackford per Das Films, David Sonenberg Production, Polygram Filmed Entertainment