Edinburgh Jamie Neish

Edinburgh 2018: Meeting Jim review

★★★☆☆

Jim Haynes is the focus of Meeting Jim, an unexpectedly captivating documentary by Ece Ger that’s been nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Film award at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Quite rightly too, as Jim spent a large portion of his life in the Scottish capital, attending university and running a number of controversial and influential ventures, including bookshops and art spaces. He now lives in Paris, where he holds weekly Sunday dinners at his house, inviting people from across the world to share a meal and be part of one another’s lives.

The documentary opens with the mystique of Jim as people from different countries share their impression of Jim, how they met and sweet, funny anecdotes. This is a clever approach as it allows the audience an opportunity to experience the man from outsider perspectives, all of which share a common thread in how kind and warm-hearted they make him out to be. If there’s one thing Jim wants most from life, it’s peace. He uses every opportunity to introduce people in his own small but noteworthy attempt to make this happen.

Ger then skips back in time to the 1960s, covering a chunk of Jim’s life in remarkable detail. He was first in the military, finding himself in Edinburgh when he asked to be stationed somewhere remote with only a handful of other people. Here, he opened a bookstore on the Grassmarket where he sold books that were banned and even made the front cover of the national newspapers when one woman was so disgusted by one such purchase that she poured petrol all over it and set it alight. Jim was also responsible for setting in motion a section of Edinburgh’s arts scene that was, at that point, undiscovered and under-appreciated. The Traverse, for example, now a mainstay in the city where many shows are staged each and every year, was once down a side street, kept that way to ensure its longevity outside of the wider public eye.

Done with Edinburgh, Jim relocated to London, co-founding arts spaces and alternative newspaper I.T. Now. However, he’s already settled in Paris where the aforementioned dinners first started. The number of attendees ranges from 30 to over 100, cosied up in the house Jim shares with lodgers who take up the spare rooms rent free. The dinners are a way for Jim to bring people together from all walks of life, have them share stories and bond in the hopes he’ll create new friendships that will spread further and wider.

It’s a rare thing for a film to creep up on you in the way Meeting Jim does, and that’s a testament to the way this man’s unique story has been pieced together by Ger. What’s constructed certainly isn’t predictable, nor full of dramatics, yet it’s funny, affectionate and surprising. It leaves an impression and should be seen by all who have the chance.

Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish