I started my journey in cinema at the age of sixteen. Since then, life has seemed to me as a random collection of scenes, each of them from a different film, genre and time. As a matter of fact, I witnessed both the differences and the similarities in stories and people. The most common feature was that everyone was looking for a safe and comfortable corner of the room to manifest their essence, their real self. Herein, I may say that when I met Jim Haynes, I noticed that there was something different about him, a truly unusual feature: he wasn’t looking for a corner of the room. Instead, he seemed to somehow have a corner for everyone to feel safe in. This unique characteristic of him had a huge impact on me, and can be regarded as the starting point of the feature-length documentary titled Meeting Jim. The following paragraphs account for the reasons behind choosing this title. Reasons that are mostly related to the journey of me meeting him and the facts that led me to take the decision of making this film.
It was a series of coincidences that took me to Jim’s atelier in Paris in spring 2015. Thanks to Dina Iordanova -a Film professor at St Andrews University (Scotland)- and our developing friendship back in those days, I found myself at Jim’s home on the 30th of March, 2015. That day, before arriving to Rue de Tombe Issoire, Dina and I had the chance to discuss about this legendary figure of the 1960s. She kept mentioning the importance of his role in the cultural and artistic scene of the time in Edinburgh and the reference city of London. I remember myself getting overwhelmed at the idea of meeting ‘Mr. Haynes’. As Dina continued telling stories about him, I couldn’t help feeling more and more insecure about our encounter… “How would I be able to address him with my poor English?” For a second, I thought of how irrelevant would be for Jim to meet me, an inexperienced young person. I was pretty sure that he had more important things to do.
A few minutes later, when I met Jim for the first time, I felt something very unusual about him. The most striking fact was that meeting him seemed to me as one of the easiest things on Earth. Spending some time at his atelier showed me that not putting any barriers between himself and others was a decision he had made to manifest his philosophy on the principles of communication. His interest was mostly in the extraordinary side of the ordinary. An interest that he genuinely showed for every single person he met, therefore making them feel meaningful and special.
Nowadays, as we interview people from all around the world to build an archive for the project, I am more and more aware of the positive effect of his attitude and behaviour especially on young artists at that moment and today. As a young person, I can tell from my experience that youth is full of hope, but lacks the confidence to materialise their ideals. During the interviews, my partner in the project, Marta Benavides, and I came across numerous stories of artists that Jim had encouraged when they were feeling either lost or too unconfident to become more visible with their art. Suddenly I realised that various of the most iconic artists of the 20th century would have probably said exactly the same thing about Jim’s influence on them, if we had had the opportunity to interview them. Anyone reading his autobiographical book, Thanks For Coming, would definitely be impressed by the importance of his figure in the art scene. However, because he is more interested in listening to others’ stories than in speaking of himself, one usually has no clue about him having such a striking past.
After meeting Jim, he became one of the closest people to me during my stay in Paris. The friendship of a filmmaker at the age of 26 and a 83-year-old philosopher-artist who had managed to actualise his principles and ideals along his life, was for me an extraordinary and colorful one from its nature, and still continues to be so. As I started spending time with him, I observed that people’s lives around him were going through a noticeable transformation process, in which they started to create a new fruitful network of human relations and professional collaborations through him. It seemed very clear to me that the reason behind this collective transformation was him naturally adopting the role of a catalysor. His address book contains thousands and thousands of people’s contact details from all around the world. In his world people are not defined by their beliefs, origin or age. Everyone is equal, no one has any privilege. He has this unique way of perceiving the world that is not easily witnessed in practice. Anyone who has ever been involved in his life still continues to be a part of this endless human chain, of this big family.
At this point, I should mention that Jim’s life is not a fairytale and his philosophy of saying yes to everything has caused him no little trouble. Although he never talks about the negative outcomes of setting no barriers around him, even I can see how certain people try to take advantage of him, of his network, his atelier, and everything else susceptible to be taken advantage of. It has been a big dilemma for me to decide whether to include or not the negative consequences of his unconventional lifestyle, but I finally decided to do so. As I continued to work on the project, they started to become more and more visible. For me, it meant that the film had already started to breathe, even before the start of the shootings. At the end of the day, I believe that Jim mostly doesn’t care about the negative things happening around him. However, this doesn’t make these facts out of sight. The camera will catch them, if they are in the frame.
Sunday Dinners, which will also come across the shootings, will make some hundreds of people around Jim become a part of the film. Food has a metaphorical meaning in Jim’s life. Everyone around him gathers around a table to eat and socialise. According to Jim, “if people could meet each other more easily, the world would become a better place”. At the social events that he hosts or takes part in, any sense of discomfort is out of the concept. If you are there, you must get involved.
A month after meeting Jim, I asked if I could make a documentary on him. He said “yes!”, since he has this habit of saying yes to everything. Perhaps he thought that my question was just a rhetoric way to verbalise my admiration for him. Now I’m afraid it’s too late to say no (sorry Jim!). There are a number of interviews with him as well as short/medium-length documentaries on Sunday dinners. There are even some popular advertisements that he stars. However, there is no film about the essence of his life, of himself. As soon as I discovered that Jim was much more than just Sunday dinners and his network, I realised that these dinners and social gatherings were the side effects of his whole philosophy of life. Along the documentary, his intellectual background and lifelong achievements won’t remain in the background eclipsed by hundreds of people appearing in the film. In order to avoid this, our team is currently in the process of a thorough research which will unveil his vast unspoken archive.
In addition, I have decided not to build the visual aesthetic of the film on talking heads. To catch the rhythm of Jim’s life, Gilliam De La Torre -cinematographer of the project- and I, both agreed on a dynamic use of camera. By following his footsteps, the setting of the story will keep constantly changing. Although Jim’s steps are now slower due to his age, the same remark can’t be made for the pace of his life. He is nowadays what he was at his 40s, 50s and 60s. He continues to do what he was doing back then. Therefore, the visual narrative will be built around his energy, the crowd around him, his love towards life and people, and of course, the cities he travels to. Documenting his route is also documenting the cities of Edinburgh, London and Paris in year 2016, through his eyes. This includes witnessing the contemporary art scene of 2016 through Jim Haynes’ perception. The journey of him and of the film will be an ordinary one of a legendary figure.
The road of cinema took me to numerous people, film sets, crews, independent souls, dreamers, students, lecturers, cities, schools and friends. I mostly felt comfortable in any circumstance I faced, as I trusted the good side of people and life. This optimistic gaze led me to see the miraculous side of life, and of every single person I met on the way. Although I am aware of the fact that we are day by day surrounded by a seemingly growing violence and evil, realistically I believe in good. Maybe this common characteristic between Jim and I, what was led me to him and eventually to the decision of making a realistic film about optimism.
In today’s world, as a filmmaker, I feel I have the responsibility to show hope instead of violence. As violence is everywhere, hope is getting less and less visible. Therefore, I dream of working towards building hope in people’s hearts as an alternative way of fighting against war and violence. Jim devoted his whole life to seizing the needs of society and satisfying them through his innovative enterprises and work. Why not doing the same? By reading this director’s view, you may say Jim is a dreamer, but he is not the only one, I believe.