I've invited myself to Sunday dinner at Jim Haynes' Montparnasse Atelier several times.
Hold on. What kind of jackass invites themselves to dinner? Well, since he first started his dinners in 1978, there have been about 200,000 such jackasses visiting Paris by Jim's reckoning. He says he has a mission to introduce everyone to each other, and his latest, and most enduring way of doing this is to allow anyone who wants to come to dinner invite themselves along, on any given Sunday in Paris.
His earlier innovations include The Paperback, the UK's first paperback-only bookshop in Edinburgh, co-founding the seminal 1962 Writers Conference, and co-founding Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. He went on in the 1960s to create the London Traverse Theatre Company, the International Times newspaper, and the London Arts Lab in Drury Lane. The Arts Lab helped launch the careers of then little-known figures like David Bowie, Lindsay Kemp and Steven Berkoff.
Jim was also among the founders of the 'sex newspaper' Suck, which decamped to Amsterdam to avoid falling foul of British censorship and obscenity laws. In the early 1990s, ne curated a series of travellers guides to several Eastern European countries, published by Canongate Books, which were in effect analogue versions of Facebook — where people who wanted contact from abroad published their contact details and interests in order to simply meet new people, and show them their homes and cities. He has also published dozens of books bringing new talent to the world through Handshake Editions, and has to date written two autobiographies.
So there's enough material for a very, very long documentary. However, it's a credit to those who created this film that it very effectively condenses these stories, and captures Jim's incredible spirit, in just 75 minutes.
It was of course meeting Jim at dinner which was the genesis of this warm, moving and fascinating documentary that, largely through the voices of people who have met Jim, tells the story of this quite extraordinary man.
Turkish Director Ece Ger first met Jim when she came to dinner in Paris on the 21st of June 2015. She became friends with Jim at once (this is quite normal for people who meet Jim) and over that summer, met with other film-makers (at Jim's of course) and put together a team of people from Turkey, Cuba, Spain, the UK and Germany, who, through sheer determination and a bit of crowdfunding, travelled with Jim and filmed him for 45 days in 2016 on a journey from Paris, via London, to the Edinburgh Festival.
The result was over 110 hours of footage - enough for several documentaries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it took two years to edit the film into its finished format, which weaves together historical archive footage with contemporary interviews and meetings, performances and conversations featuring Jim.
Hugely enjoyable, life-affirming and astonishing
The effect of so many different people describing one person, who were once strangers, but have become friends, and who invariably have been strongly influenced and inspired by him, is simple and profound: you want to meet this guy. What is revealed is that Jim very clearly embodies the spirit and energy of the 1960s, but has continued to let this lead his actions and his philosophy on life. He has chosen to be happy. He always says yes to new ideas, and he maintains strong friendships with huge numbers of people across the years and in countries all over the world.
Footage and interviews from events such as the The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in 1967 show a younger Jim, but an enduring outlook on life. This is a man who has an open heart and a gentle, accepting nature, and has designed his life around helping other people get to know others, make friends with them, and collaborate and bring to fruition things that would otherwise simply not be possible. And if there's one thing that you take away from watching this hugely enjoyable, life-affirming and astonishing film. it's the fact that fantastic things are possible if you open your mind and your heart to other people, and to new ideas.
There's a wonderful section of the film that deals with the World Passport, another of Jim's little innovations. With former USAF airman Garry Davis, who believed that 'countries cause wars' Jim produced a World Passport. You could get a passport no matter where in the world you happened to have been born. His atelier in Montparnasse became a 7-days, 24-hour embassy. The passport was recognised de jure by 5, and de facto by over 40 countries around the world. Jim himself used his own passport to cross borders successfully, before about a dozen french police officers arrived one day to shut it down. But not before the 'World Embassy' had issued thousands passports to people arriving in Paris who needed documentation.
This is the sort of thing Jim cooked up. A crazy, but wonderful idea which actually turned into something tangible, and real, and which rocked conventions. There's probably still need for a world passport, not least in poor little Brexit Britain. The episode is short, and lightly treated, but it is typical of this film - it's one of a fascinating collage of stories and ideas surrounding this quite unique individual, and the warmth and originality of his character shines through it.
The end credits are notable for three things: a mesmerisingly long list of participants, a huge list of thank yous and acknowledgements for the individuals who crowdfunded this movie, and the fact that Jim Haynes' full contact details appear.
Coming away from the film, you realise how much Jim has achieved, and how much he has helped others to achieve. You will probably also come to recognise that his attitude to life is profound in its simplicity, and hugely successful. It makes you want to be more like Jim: more accepting of people, open to new ideas and influences, and to try to create situations where you can introduce people to each other.
You should meet Jim. Go to Atelier A-2, 83, rue de la Tombe Issoire, 75014 Paris. Contact Jim via jim-haynes.com - you are invited next Sunday as usual.
But see this film first if you can. It's a beautiful thing.
72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival
Turkey, Spain, UK, Germany, Cuba | English, French | 75 minutes
World Premiere Saturday 23rd June 2018 | 24th June 2018 | Press & Industry Showing: 30th June 2018 11:20