Screening of Leon Gast’s When We Were Kings will highlight filmmaker’s career

Leon Gast

“We showed the film [When We Were Kings] quite a few years ago at the Linda auditorium in Albany with WAMC,” said Meira Blaustein, Executive Director of the Woodstock Film Festival.  “After the film there was a Q&A with Leon and somebody asked him if there was something he could change in the film, what would it be? And Leon said, and I quote, ‘If I only had two more weeks…’ At that point the room erupted in laughter because it had already been said that he had worked on it for 22 years…”

The epic story of Leon Gast’s more than two-decade quest to get his film, When We Were Kings, the Oscar winning documentary of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s Heavyweight Championship bout in Zaire in 1974, made, will surely be recounted along with a showing of the film, as the Woodstock Film Festival presents a Special Tribute to Gast at 4:45 p.m. Friday October 1 at the Bearsville Theater. 

Gast, a longtime Woodstocker, passed away last March, ultimately triumphed, as the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 1996. 

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Describing why it took so long to get the film released, Tad Wise wrote for Hudson Valley One in March, “Leon should have returned from Zaire in 1974 with the 300,000 feet of film, several hundred thousand in compensation, plus a hefty budget to edit. Instead, it was just the start of a 22-year saga including a lawsuit against the-holder-of-funds: an off-shore company sheltering the Liberian minister of finance, his subsequent highly suspicious death, a never-fully-disclosed ‘re-negotiation’ with Don King, a drug deal gone bad, and at last…

Blaustein said it was a natural thing to do this year, given that the prolific filmmaker (his documentaries include The Grateful Dead Movie, Smash His Camera, Hell’s Angels, and B.B. King – Sweet 16) had passed away. “I didn’t have to think about it, it was a given that we would do a tribute, and I didn’t have to think about how to do it, because that also was very natural,” Blaustein said. “We will have the editor of the film (Jeff Kusama-Hinte) but also it looks like the cinematographer of the film will come up and talk about the whole production and post production. Leon’s wife Gerri will be in the audience and I know Barbara Koppel, who was very close to Leon but did not work on the film, is going to be in the audience. I’m happy that we can do something.”  

The Woodstock Film Festival’s Tribute to Leon Gast and special screening of When We Were Kings will take place at 4:45 p.m. Friday, October 1 at the Bearsville Theater. For Tickets or more information, see www.woodstockfilmfestival.org/tickets, or call the Box Office at (845) 810-0131.

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