A heavyweight friendship

Dick Cavett and Muhammad Ali in a scene from the documentary, "Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes."

TRAVERSE CITY — Fans lined up around the block Thursday night to catch a glimpse of talk show icon Dick Cavett at the Traverse City Film Festival.

Cavett and director Robert S. Bader visited the sold-out State Theatre to view and discuss their new documentary film, “Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes.” Cavett and Bader sat down with film producer and moderator Ira Deutchman for a discussion and Q&A session after the film.

The new film focuses on Cavett’s friend, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, and the close relationship that developed between the two over Ali’s appearances on Cavett’s talk show. It uses clips from Cavett’s show to tell Ali’s life story.

“There’s been a long tradition in Hollywood of mismatched buddy movies,” said Deutchman while introducing the film. “This is not that.”

He added, “Two more unlikely people to become friends, I can’t imagine.”

The excitement for Cavett’s visit ran high among those waiting for the film.

Kate Anderson, visiting the Film Fest for the ninth year from Yellow Springs, Ohio, said she looked forward to seeing memorable events of her youth in a new light.

“Maybe I’m going to learn something new,” she said.

“I’m old enough to remember [Cavett] on television,” Anderson joked. “He really is a phenomenal interviewer. He’s really unique.”

Anderson also said that as a fan of Ali’s, she looked forward to revisiting the boxer’s interviews. “Ali was the quintessential showman,” she said.

The film focuses not only on Ali and Cavett’s conversations about his boxing career, but examines their discussions of social justice and racial relations in America (including Ali’s relationship with Malcolm X).

“I just feel so guilty laughing and pretending that everything is rosy when people are hungry,” Ali says in one interview with Cavett.

Ali and Cavett shared a friendship of nearly 50 years, until Ali’s 2016 death. Cavett says that, in a New York Times column he wrote, readers were surprised when he referred to Ali as his best friend.

“I can get very sentimental talking about Ali and thinking about him,” Cavett muses in the film.

Traverse City Film Festival president Michael Moore will host a panel discussion with Dick Cavett and Robert S. Bader at 9:30 a.m., today, August 3 at the Old Town Playhouse.

“Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes” plays again August 3 at 3 p.m. in the Kubrick at Central Grade School (formerly Lars Hockstad Auditorium).