Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Leon Gast dies at 85


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Filmmaker Leon Gast, whose documentary When we were kings won an Oscar, died Monday at 85.

Gast’s death was announced by her friend Meira Blaustein in a Facebook post.

“He was a giant filmmaker, an absolute joy to be human and a very dear and beloved friend,” wrote Blaustein, co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival. “I’m so grateful that I was able to visit him yesterday, to tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to all of us. I just wish we could have stayed longer. My heart is with his family.”

When we were kings chronicled Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight championship boxing match in 1974. It took Gast 22 years to put together and finance the documentary, which not only covers the athletes themselves themselves, but also the energy surrounding the event in Zaire, including fight promoter Don King and the “Black Woodstock” soul music festival that accompanied the fight. When we were kings was named Best Documentary Feature at the 1997 Oscars.

Gast was born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1936 and studied drama at Columbia University. A recipient of the Golden Door International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, he was also a set photographer and designed album covers for Latin music group Fania All-Stars.

Gast’s other documentaries include the motorcycle club doc hell’s angels forever and Manny, which follows the career of legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao. Gast also co-directed The Grateful Dead movie information with Jerry Garcia.

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