Described by The Guardian as the founder of the social network, then just a drawer-full of address books for just about every major city in the world, Jim Haynes is perhaps the most famous person you’ve never heard of. That’s because he isn’t just a name to the people who have met him but a friend, an ambassador, a hero. His exploits in Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam and Paris have endeared him to many and left an indelible mark on each respective city, and even today, at 83, the informal Sunday dinners he regularly hosts continue to draw hundreds of strangers (soon to be fast friends) to his home — his address and telephone number being readily available online.
Ece Ger’s Meeting Jim was conceived at one such dinner, and filming duly ran from Sunday 31st July to Sunday 14th September, 2016 over the course of several sittings — taking in Jim’s annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival and his tenure as a living exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This physical journey on the Eurostar encourages a psychological one, affording Jim the opportunity to reminisce about his experience of both cities during the 1960s, from his US military posting to Scotland, his studies at the University of Edinburgh and his founding of the first paperback bookshop in Britain to his establishment of the Arts Lab in Drury Lane. Fittingly, the film had its World Premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival — with its first public screening when else but Sunday.
The film opens with not one but innumerable introductions, as men and women of all ages and occupations — almost all of them lost in a giddy revelry — recount their first mythic meetings with Jim. For the audience, Haynes is to be found at the breakfast table, spreading strawberry jam onto a crunchy French baguette and discussing his blood sugar level. As first impressions go it’s surprisingly unremarkable, particularly for a figure of such heraldry and renown, but as you get to know him it becomes increasingly clear that showing off simply isn’t his style. Unusually for the subject of a documentary such as this Jim’s focus remains on other people — even when he’s supposed to be talking about himself. As one acquaintance puts it: “he’s become an example of living rather than an example of a great man.”
And oh how he’s lived, travelling the globe on a passport that he printed himself and making friends wherever he went, even at one point publishing guide books containing the contact details of locals who were open to greeting tourists and showing them around. He issued World Passports from his own personal embassy in Paris, inspired by Garry Davis, who had previously renounced his American citizenship and opted instead to become a citizen of the world, until it was raided by French police and forced to close. Then he simply moved on, to co-found the Traverse Theatre, International Times and Suck, an erotic magazine printed in Amsterdam. A singular individual with a plethora of accomplishments, Haynes is a hard man to pin down, to perceive and really comprehend. He must instead be triangulated, something that is only possible through the relationships and shared histories of which he has so many.
Or you could just visit his website, and book a place at his dinner table. Meeting Jim is an honour, a pleasure and an inspiration, and afterwards the thought of showing up on his doorstep will seem like the most natural thing in the world.