Oscar nominated documentary on the American Civil Rights Movement, I Am Not Your Negro, was the inaugural film of the Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation films, MIFF 2018, screened at NCPA, flagging off the 15th edition of MIFF. The film is one of the most talked about documentaries in recent times and has won top awards in Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and 8 other international festivals. It is 93 minutes long and is directed by Raoul Peck, who has been the Minister of Culture in his native country, Haiti.

Proving fact is stranger than fiction, the film has a history quite its own. In 1979, black American author James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent, describing his next project, to be called ‘Remember This House’. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

But at the time of Baldwin’s death, in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of his manuscript. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words, as read by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside a flood of rich archival material, the film draws upon Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr,. to explore and bring a fresh and radical perspective to the current racial narrative in America.

Raoul Peck’s body of work includes feature narrative films like The Man by the Shore (Competition Cannes 1993), Lumumba (Director’s Fortnight, Cannes 2000, bought and aired by HBO), Sometimes in April (HBO, Berlinale 2005), Moloch Tropical (Toronto 2009, Berlin 2010) and Murder in Pacot (Toronto 2014, Berlin 2015). His documentaries include Lumumba, Death of a Prophet (1990), Desounen (1994, BBC) and Fatal Assistance (Berlinale, Hot Docs 2013), which was supported by the Sundance Institute and Britdoc Foundation (UK) and broadcast on major TV channels (Canal+, ARTE, etc.)

His latest work is the feature ‘The Young Karl Marx’ (Le jeune Karl Marx), a European co-production, shot in Germany and Belgium, which was shown and highly appreciated at the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) and the International Film Festival of India (IFFI).

(by Siraj Syed- Mumbai based film critic and academic)


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