True/False Conversations - Words from the Past Echo the Present in 'I Am Not Your Negro'
This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest.
Raoul Peck read about James Baldwin for the first time in high school. He became enraptured with the view of the world through the lens of Baldwin. Throughout his life and his career as a filmmaker, he carried this view, which crept up now and then in the projects he began to work on. His passion for the social activist’s work acted as the inspiration for the creation of the film, I’m Not Your Negro.
The Oscar Nominated Best Feature film, I’m Not Your Negro, centers on the collections of James Baldwin’s works. The pieces selected focus on Baldwin’s view of being a Black man in “white” America. The movie is comprised of readings of Baldwin’s writings, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and interviews conducted during his lifetime.
Herbert Peck, a producer of the film, spoke with Ana Perez about the significance Baldwin had on his life and the challenges that arose while making the film.
Perez: What were some of the biggest challenges you had when making this film?
Peck: There were different challenges, I mean, at every stage to pre-production to post-production and even marketing. This is a film that was produced over a ten-year period and between the three producers sometimes we were in three different continents. We had to maintain correspondence and maintain our workflow over that time. Sometimes, we could have six hours’ difference between here, there and Europe or if Raoul was in Haiti, there were additional hour differences or at least distance. There were issues in terms of clearing rights for a lot of the archival material in the film. There were issues in terms of fundraising, finding partners. That's what happens when you want to create something and have control over it and so it means that to have control you must be willing to do the hard work of funding it yourself and finding the funders that will allow you, that will give you time to work on the project so that's what happened.
Perez: How long did it take to find funding for the film?
Peck: It varied. At the beginning, we have European partners like ARTE which is a TV network in France and Germany and so because Raoul had done some work for them before, he was able to give him a five-page treatment and they wrote him and said "Great, go forward." `Whereas, some other funders or potential funders we had to spend months or sometimes years to convince them that this was an important film to make and that can be, you can't just stop. You have to keep moving. So, therefore, that made things difficult, so eventually by the time we were able to lock some funders in the US, we already had somewhat of a cut to present. The film is so layered, that even in writing a treatment it is, even for creating for people, it is not always easy to visualize what the writer is putting down on paper. So, you can imagine for someone who is not even in the industry but is trying to prove some funding but our biggest partner and is a great partner was iTVS in the U.S. That once they came on board it made a difference in the US, we had smaller partners also in Sundance and initially that helped us with smaller grants so that we could hire additional folks. So, that was very important, so it was a long process to find people, as independent filmmakers.
Perez: Is there anything that you hope the audience can take away from watching the film?
Peck: Once you have seen the film, it is hard for you to come out of the film, kind of saying “I didn’t know this”. Once you have been exposed to the film, it makes you question certain things about the way things are today for us, a society. We hope that this film will begin to have, create some discussions about issues around race, issues around equality and equity even but in terms of what do we want from the public, or the audience, we want to have conversations around what it means to be an American and what we can become as America, what do we want to happen together.