'Meeting Jim': Film Review | Edinburgh 2018

You don't know Jim...but you will.

Ece Ger's Turkish-German-Spanish-British documentary profiles the globe-hopping cultural eminence Jim Haynes.

A documentary as genial, accessible and likable as its subject, Meeting Jim shines a welcome, belated spotlight on a major cultural figure who until now has been content to work his gentle magic from the sidelines. Louisiana-born Jim Haynes — a self-proclaimed "world citizen," based in Europe for more than 60 years — is lovingly celebrated by a tiny sampling of his myriad close friends over the course of 70-odd minutes, and it's to the credit of debutante director Ece Ger that the results so delightfully transcend mere hagiography.

World-premiering to predictably warm reactions at Edinburgh, the city Haynes called home from the mid-fifties to the late sixties, the film is of much more than parochial interest and deserves to travel as widely as the footloose dude himself. Indeed, with careful positioning and handling, Meeting Jim could plausibly connect with some of those mature audiences who made unexpected hits out of current releases RBG (on Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and Won't You Be My Neighbor? (on Fred Rogers).

Like Ginsburg and Rogers, Haynes is a figure of ample but approachable charisma who proves wonderfully stimulating company over the briskly edited picture's 70-odd minutes — a fictional biopic would likely have to cast the likes of Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott or Donald Sutherland. His life story contains material for an entire mini-=series or two, however: serving in the USAF, he put in a request to be stationed near a university city and thus found himself in the "comfortably smug, middle-class" Edinburgh of 1956.

A libertarian free spirit by nature, he soon set about shaking things up, opening the U.K.'s first-ever paperback bookstore and helping found the radical and pioneering Traverse Theatre with Richard Demarco, at a time when censorship strictly patrolled the British stage. The latter, now a fellow young-at-heart octogenarian, proves one of Ger's most illuminating and lively interviewees.

Broadway legend Jane Alexander, who was also part of that early Traverse crowd, is also on hand to recall the excitingly rambunctious and "whizzy" scene that developed under Haynes' avuncular influence. The film is full of wonderful anecdotes and underappreciated chapters in recent history, following Haynes as he eventually leaves Edinburgh and heads for the gaudier lights of London. Here he achieves renown as a prime mover behind seminal underground newspaper International Times.

Meeting Jim is structured as a leisurely retracing of Haynes's trajectory, as he travels from his Paris residence to Edinburgh for the city's long-running August arts festival — where he is duly lionized — and then to London (bumping into Almodovar muse Rossy de Palma on the St Pancras platform, as one does) and finally back to Paris. There, he plunges into the preparation for his next Sunday soiree, a not-so-movable feast which has welcomed more than 130,000 diners since it began in 1978 ("life is short; we have a duty to enjoy ourselves").

Ger's film, itself an impeccably international co-production, was shot in the summer of 2016 and thus before the election of Donald Trump and the rise of xenophobia-tinged European nationalism, and the director generally steers clear of direct political commentary. The commercialization of countercultural phenomena is another unexplored avenue: we glimpse a banner for Edinburgh's alternative-oriented Fringe, now obtrusively and incongruously sponsored by a major financial services company.

The picture is also a little evasive on Haynes' private life, and his participation (or otherwise) in the more hedonistic excesses of the countercultural scene. But while Meeting Jim's form has none of the cheeky experimentation that marked many of the gregarious Haynes' own exploits and cultural contributions — such as the adults-only 1970s Amsterdam film festival Wet Dreams, fleetingly and tantalizingly mentioned — it functions just fine as a record of emotion happily recollected in golden-years tranquility.

Hailed as having been "in the social networking business since before Mark Zuckerberg was even born," Haynes is a raffish relic of the countercultural heyday — in London, he even has a stint as a living exhibit in a V&A Museum show chronicling the era: patrons are invited to "Talk to a Sixties Survivor." Retaining every ounce of the liberalistic humanism which has sustained his energies over the years, Haynes thus embodies "a duty to introduce" and his guiding principle that "the more people...meet each other, the better the world is." The film duly and truly takes the man at his word: how many documentaries dare to include in their closing credits the postal address, email and cellphone number of the main protagonist?

Production company: www.meetingjim.com
Director-screenwriter: Ece Ger
Producers: Marta Benavides, Ece Ger
Cinematographer: Gilliam de la Torre
Editors: Ece Ger, Ozcan Vardar
Composer: Serdar Ateser
Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival (Documentaries)
Sales: www.meetingjim.com (meetingjimthedocumentary@gmail.com)
In English, French
No Rating, 77 minutes