MEETING THE MAN: JAMES BALDWIN IN PARIS

MEETING THE MAN: JAMES BALDWIN IN PARIS

Directed by Terence Dixon

Runtime: 27 minutes

Documentary short, United Kingdom, France, 1970

Cast: James Baldwin

Synopsis: A documentary portrait of James Baldwin, one of the towering figures of 20th-century American literature, Black culture and political thought, filmed in Paris. The iconic writer is captured in many symbolic locations in the city, where he was living at the time, including the Place de la Bastille.

URL: https://mubi.com/films/meeting-the-man-james-baldwin-in-paris/trailer

This is an extremely rare film document from 1970, with cinematography by  [Rude Boy (1980) A Bigger Splash (1973)] shot in several symbolic Paris locations, including the Place de la Bastille. As Hazan recounts: “Things don’t go to plan for him and the film crew when a couple of young black Vietnam draft dodgers impose themselves on the American. Baldwin wrestles with being a role model to the black youths, denouncing Western colonialism and crimes against African Americans while at the same time demonstrating his mastery and understanding of the culture he supposedly despises.”

Tense, combative and discursive, one meeting with James Baldwin doesn’t go quite according to plan for writer/director Terence Dixon when there is an encounter with a group of presumptuous white filmmakers, in this rarely seen, Paris-set short film. It is an illuminating snapshot of the great African-American intellectual’s worldview that bristles with friction and ideas.

But eventually there is one scene where the filmmakers are finally silenced, and Baldwin gets instead to speak to a group of his readers. The setting is informal, with everyone lounging on a bed while Baldwin sits across the room. One man tells Baldwin that his novel, Another Country, is the first and last book he was able to complete. Baldwin takes a moment to accept this before saying:

“I know from my own point of view, it was in a sense all for you. I mean, I know that I love you, but you haven’t necessarily gotten to know that, and I suppose I never thought that I would live to hear you say that you love me.”

In a moment, conflict is resolved by love.

Baldwin says: “The world is held together by the love and the passion of a very few people.”

This short film underlines how important James Baldwin is in modern history. Not just for the nobility of his intelligence and devastating articulacy – but as a warm, brave and empathetic influence that the world still needs today.

This beautiful restoration of Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris is streaming on MUBI

Images courtesy of MUBI