Hours of Interviews From HBO's Martin Luther King Jr. Doc 'King in the Wilderness' to Be Released

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From left: Trey Ellis, Teddy Kunhardt, SVP, HBO Documentary Films Jacqueline Glover, George Kunhardt, Peter Kunhardt and Taylor Branch

Emmy award-winning director Peter Kunhardt, who announced the release at the film's premiere this week, says the doc will be a more intimate portrait of King.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gathered his friends, followers and even some foes into Manhattan's Riverside Church, where he passionately disavowed the Vietnam War in a moving speech. He would be assassinated one year later. More than 50 years on, friends and followers of King returned to Riverside Church on Monday, this time to witness the premiere of the new documentary King in the Wilderness. 

Directed by Peter Kunhardt (Living With LincolnJim: The James Foley Story), King in the Wilderness is an exploration of the civil rights icon's life after his “I Have a Dream” speech ended. The HBO doc is set to premiere Monday with exclusive interviews and research releasing soon after. The producers, including executives Taylor Branch and renowned King biographer and author Trey Ellis, are hoping to create a more intimate portrait of King. 

"The story of the first 10 years of the Civil Rights movement is so well-known, culminating in 'I Have a Dream,’“ Kunhardt told The Hollywood Reporter at Monday night's event. “No one wanted to see that again.” 

Instead, Kunhardt, Branch and Ellis kept King in the Wilderness focused on the last three years of King's life — a period in time that seems to mirror the current political division in America.

"The issues in this film are so applicable to what’s going on now," Branch said. “Therefore, it will be a new movement and a new King relative to what people expect. We pigeon-holed him for a long time as somebody who was very popular and had a sunny belief in 'I Have a Dream.' This is a much more anguished King.”

Added Ellis: “I think [King’s] been co-opted by everybody after he died. He became very safe. Really, he wasn't safe. He was radical and challenged everybody. This is a challenging story. This is the story that really challenges people to stop co-opting his message to whatever they wanted." 

In order to share more first-hand information about King, HBO and Kunhardt Productions are releasing all 35 hours of interviews, obtained for the documentary, on the internet for free. 

“We’re going to be releasing these via YouTube and a platform that we’re going to create called the Kunhardt Film Foundation, and we’re going to put all the unreleased interviews up on the site in conjunction with the educational outreach of this film,” George Kunhardt, producer and one of Peter's sons, told THR.

According to producer Teddy Kunhardt, another son of Peter, HBO is “making the film public, as well,” starting on the pay cabler “for a while” before being released on YouTube. 

King in the Wilderness airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.