Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Leon Gast was perhaps best known for his portrayal of one of the biggest boxing bouts in history.
Gast, a native of the state of New Jersey, shot the documentary film When We Were Kings, which chronicled the build-up and fight known as “The Rumble in the Jungle” between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman.
It took place in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974, but the film, which premiered in 1996, took the director – who has died at the age of 85 – two decades to complete.
It documented an ageing Ali building up to the fight in Africa against one of the hardest-hitting punchers in boxing history – and using his popularity with the people of Zaire to build unassailable crowd support, helping him to eventual victory.
When We Were Kings received widespread critical acclaim and let to Gast picking up the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Independent Spirit Award.
Born in New Jersey in 1936, Gast attended Columbia University in New York before going on to work in television and later working on documentaries on The Grateful Dead and legendary biker gang The Hells Angels.
The director initially travelled to film a three-day festival of music being held in celebration of the Ali vs Foreman fight, only for Zaire’s ruler to make it a free event five days before it started – financially pulling the plug on Gast’s documentary.
He instead opted to follow Ali around Kinshasa and returned to America with over 300,000 feet of film.
Alongside his Oscar win, Gast was also been awarded the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Door International Film Festival in 2012
He was also known for his still photography, which appeared in such magazines as Vogue, Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar.
Meira Blaustein, Gast’s close friend and the co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival, shared the news of his death in a Facebook post.
She said: “He was a giant of a filmmaker, an absolute joy of a human being, and a very dear and beloved friend.
“I am so grateful that I got to visit with him yesterday, tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to all of us. I only wish I had stayed longer.”