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Anatomy of a Scene from ”Ailey”

March 23, 2022

In this installment of Anatomy of a Scene, “Ailey” director Jamila Wignot describes the creative process behind a key sequence in her remarkable portrait of American dance legend Alvin Ailey. After building his hugely successful dance company from scratch, Ailey felt an ever-increasing amount of pressure and eventually broke down. Jamila and her team, guided by Ailey’s point of view, figured out how to “mirror and imagine” Ailey’s overwhelming sense of disorientation during this crisis. Creating a montage of clips of New York City culled from the avant-garde films of Jonas Mekas, Jamila and her editors play with time – speeding things up, slowing them down, running shots in reverse. Added to that are layers of sound and music in rhythm with Ailey’s own recorded words. Cut together very early on, the sequence helped the filmmakers to “arrive at the language of the film,” which they would then “carry through, in all parts of the film.”

Note: We recommend that, if possible, you follow along with us. The scene takes place from 1:12:07 – 1:14:47, timed from the beginning of the movie. “Ailey” is available for streaming on Hulu.

To listen to our previous conversation with Jamila about “Ailey”, check out the episode on Top Docs.

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