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USA, 1989 (MIFF 1990, Documentaries)

Director: Karen Thorsen

An emotional portrait, a social critique and a passionate and eloquent plea for human equality, this documentary tells James Baldwin's story in his own words. Using interviews from many of Baldwin's close friends, colleagues and critics, Karen Thorsen has created one of the finest portraits of a creative artist ever made. Appearing in the film are Baldwin's brother David, his biographer David Leemings, writers Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, William Styron, Ishmael Reed and Yashar Kernal, painter Lucian Happersberger, and entertainer Bobby Short.

James Baldwin (1924-1987), internationally acclaimed author of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Giovanni's Room, and Another Country, helped shape black American fiction, giving it a unique and beautiful voice. A teacher, preacher and prophet, the gifted Baldwin wrote and spoke about injustices and ignorance, yet always believed ". . . all men are brothers".

A note from the director
Somewhere back in post-production, one of our editors said, "I've only been on this project two weeks, and already James Baldwin has changed my life".

He certainly changed mine. After years as a so-called idealist, after years as a writer on the fringes of film, I met Jimmy and everything meshed. Suddenly I had the courage to take the next step, I had the focus, the passion, the determination.

Here was someone lucid, honest, constant; saying the things we felt, but never really said. Here was someone who lived what he believed, someone tough-minded enough to say not that the world would change, but that it could change - if we'd just make the effort.

And he was real, he was human! Excessive, exuberant, frustrated, torn - but he also had the guts to insist that we are brothers, that love is not an indulgence, it's an imperative.

Even better, he not only wrote it, but he said it on camera all over the world - and gave us a hello of a movie!
- Karen Thorsen

See also...


Ireland/UK/Australia, 1990
Behind The Mask is a unique collaborative production commenced in London, shot in Belfast and completed here in Melbourne. The film initially started life as a project to be made for British televisi… More »


USA, 1990
This film is one of the first comprehensive looks at the student movement of the 1960s as seen from the Berkeley campus. A small student movement becomes a cause celebré when the House Un-American A… More »


USSR, 1988
If perestroika seems slow to influence Soviet features, its effect on documentaries is clear in Black Square, an original and lively look at 20th century avant-garde painting in the USSR. ... Directe… More »


USA, 1989
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is impressive as a singularly moving and sympathetic account of people whose lives have been profoundly altered, or cut short, by AIDS. ... The 75 minute docume… More »


UK, 1989
Men and women offer us an unknown view of World War II. The quality of the 'head shots' approaches the vivacity of Rosie the Riveter. Using in addition archival footage and enacted segments, we are p… More »

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