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Chicago documentary producer and director Bill Siegel, who earned an Emmy for The Trials of Muhammad Ali, died on Dec. 9. He was 55.
“With great sadness and shock, we share the news that Kartemquin associate Bill Siegel, director of the Academy Award-nominated The Weather Underground (2003) and Emmy Award-winning The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013), has passed away,” Kartemquin Films announced Tuesday on its website.
No cause of death was immediately available. Siegel, who was born Dec. 24, 1962, in Orlando, Florida, graduated from The Blake Schools before earning a degree in history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Siegel also earned a masters degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism.
He started work at Kartemquin in 1994 as a researcher on the Oscar-winning Hoop Dreams documentary. He went on to receive an Oscar nomination in the best documentary category for Weather Underground, a film about the 1970s radical activists, which he co-directed with Sam Green.
“The Weather Underground received early funding from The Chicago Underground Film Fund, a program we hope to bring back soon. Our deepest condolences to Bill’s family and friends. He will be missed,” the organization said on its Facebook page.
“Bill was an erudite, passionate and intelligent activist and independent thinker as well as being a gifted filmmaker and cherished friend,” Kartemquin added in its own statement.
Siegel worked for more than two decades on The Trials of Muhammad Ali, a doc about the legendary boxer who fought to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing U.S. military service during the Vietnam War.
“I was certain there was a worthwhile film to be made that would focus on his [Ali’s] years in exile, one that wasn’t a boxing film, but was a fight film,” Siegel told PBS’ Independent Lens blog in 2014 about the doc. The movie had its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Siegel also worked as vp school programs for the Great Books Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to literacy and lifelong learning where he worked for 23 years.
He is survived by his children, Johanna and Louis, and his former wife, Lauren Goffen. A memorial service for Siegel will be held on Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at Chicago Jewish Funerals on Skokie Blvd. in Chicago, followed by a gathering at the same location.
Dec. 14, 5 p.m. Updated with additional biographical information about Siegel, and details on a planned memorial service.
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