The 71st British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) were held on February 18, 2018, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, honoring the best national and foreign films of 2017. Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro won the award for best documentary film. [Above is a photo of director Raoul Peck and producer Rémi Grellety.] Here are excerpts from a PBS Independent Lens article (from January 10, 2019) in which Craig Phillips interviews Peck and Grellety:
The worldly Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck and his family fled the Duvalier dictatorship in 1961 and found asylum in the Democratic Republic of Congo, before Peck finished his schooling in the United States, France, and Germany. Currently living in both France and the U.S., Peck has been given numerous Human Rights Watch awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He doesn’t make a ton of films (his Lumumba: Death of a Prophet is also critically acclaimed and some of his feature films, like Sometime in April, have aired on HBO) — but when he does, he makes them count. His Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro, which makes its TV debut on Independent LensJan. 15 [check local listings], was not only one of the year’s most acclaimed films but was the second highest-grossing documentary of 2017. Centered around writer James Baldwin and his previously unpublished book (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), about race in America and the legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., I Am Not Your Negro is not just an extraordinary film, but so well-timed.
It’s a film that may “make you rethink race,” as the New York Times’ A.O. Scott wrote. “Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.” [. . .]
What led you to want to make this film in particular?
Rémi Grellety (producer): Within today’s context of social division, economic tension and extreme violence in America, especially against African Americans, Raoul was convinced that there was a need to analyze and understand the deeper structural explanation behind the cycles of violence and confusion (trivialized and distorted by the influence of the press, television, Hollywood, and angry partisan politics).
As Raoul was working on James Baldwin’s oeuvre, it became clear that Baldwin’s words still caught us unprepared and with the same violent truth as they did fifty years ago.
How do we break these cycles when we never touch the real issues themselves? How do we address the fundamental problems of America? Never before has Baldwin’s voice been so needed.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making I Am Not Your Negro?
Raoul Peck: The first big challenge was to find the proper form for this film. It was important that it be a total “Baldwin experience” for the audience, using only James Baldwin’s words. This was a big challenge and responsibility. Although Baldwin never got to write Remember This House (an account of the lives and the successive assassinations of three of his friends – Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X), I knew the book was there throughout his work – in his essays, articles, private letters, etc.
Therefore, my role as a filmmaker was to bring it together as a film worthy of James Baldwin’s powerful, radical and so visionary voice. Of course, this took effort, extensive archival research; editing decisions; etc. All this was fortunately made possible with the backing of public TV (both in the US and in Europe) who trusted me and created the space and time necessary for me to complete this film.
Listen to Raoul Peck at the BAFTAs here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hywhm4O8GA&app=desktop
For full article and interview, see http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/i-am-not-your-negro-filmmakers-reopen-james-baldwins-house/
For full list of winners, see http://deadline.com/2018/02/bafta-awards-2018-winners-live-blog-1202292234/