Ece Ger was still a student studying in Paris when one of her lecturers suggested the young Turkish film-maker should meet an American guy called Jim Haynes. Ger has never been the same since. This is a common response for most people who meet Haynes, the twinkly-eyed ex GI who either fell in with or else created Edinburgh’s 1960s bohemian society by way of the UK’s first paperback bookshop and the Traverse Theatre. Such beginnings also included the 1962 International Writers Conference that arguably begat Edinburgh Book Festival. By this time, Haynes found himself at the centre of a cultural revolution which saw him move from Edinburgh to London, Amsterdam and beyond.
Then there are Haynes’ legendary Sunday night open-house dinners held at his Paris atelier, where thousands of curious diners have passed through over the last few decades en route to making other things happen. It was at one such dinner that Ger was first introduced to Haynes. The result is Meeting Jim, a 75-minute portrait of the now eighty-something living legend which receives its world premiere this weekend at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
“It just happened,” says Ger of Meeting Jim’s roots. “After I went to dinner, Jim became my best friend in Paris. We met up all the time. Then when I was back in Istanbul, I felt I had to do something about meeting Jim, and how it feels to meet him. It’s not a biography. It’s a much more personal thing for me. I’d gradually met my entire crew who worked on Meeting Jim at different dinners at Jim’s, and we just jumped into it. It was meant to be.”
Having crowd-funded as they went, Ger filmed Haynes over a 45-day period in 2016 that saw him travel between Paris, Edinburgh and London. Ger also put out a call to the huge network of friends, associates and fellow travellers of Haynes to share their own thoughts on meeting Jim. Many of these DIY contributions have made it into the film’s final cut.
“Listening to other people’s stories of how they met Jim, everyone says a similar thing,” observes Ger. “It was always by chance, or a coincidence. No-one ever planned it to happen.”
This goes some way to explain the social reach of a man whose greatest talent, beyond the Paperback Bookshop and the Traverse, beyond International Times and the Amsterdam Wet Dream Festival, has probably been introducing like minds to each other.
“I didn’t know anything about Jim when I met him,” says Ger. “He’s very easy going and very open, but he never talks about himself, only about the people he’s met and helped bring together.”
In this sense, for Ger, making Meeting Jim has been as much of a social and historical education as an artistic document.
“I think I know Jim quite well now,” she says. “Hearing all these stories about him and everything he’s done in his life, for a group of young people like us, we’ve really learnt a lot. You can also see that nothing has changed. Jim’s still a yes man, in that he says yes to everything. It was like when I first talked to him about making the film, and he just said ‘Yeah, fine, do whatever you want.’ Everything after that happened very easily, because for Jim everything is possible, and when you’re around, everything is possible for you as well.”
Born and raised in Istanbul, Ger has been making films since she was fifteen. After studying at university in her home city, she enrolled in another course that took her to Paris for nine months. Once there, she made several performance-based films.
“I’m not a documentarist,” she says. “I come from a fiction background, but as soon as I met Jim, I knew I had to record this amazing man and his amazing life.”
Given that up until she embarked on making Meeting Jim all her short films had been dramas, has Ger considered immortalising Haynes in a similar way?
“I thought about it,” she says. “That idea came right at the start, and I started writing a script about how I met Jim and how I was inspired by him, but if I’d wanted to do that it would have taken ages, maybe two or three years. I wanted to do something that was more immediate and make this first. After that, let’s see what happens, but why not?”
This can-do attitude is something Ger possibly picked up during what ended up being a lengthy post-production process anyway.
“I spent ten hours every day over two years watching footage of Jim, so you can imagine how it has affected my mind,” says Ger. “People making documentaries always complain about the editing process, because they have so much footage, but here it was a pleasure because it was Jim.”
With 110 hours of footage to play with, there is enough leftover material for an entire series of films. Whether any of it ever sees the light of day remains to be seen, though there is a potential for such extras on any proposed DVD release that may happen beyond future screenings on the film festival circuit.
“Jim’s a very spontaneous guy,” says Ger, “so I had to capture every moment and every encounter as people would come and go. If we’d been filming using 35 millimetre film that wouldn’t have been possible, but in this digitised world you can get everything.”
Over the years, Haynes has been the recipient of both a Herald Angel and a Little Devil award from this newspaper. The latter was after Haynes survived a heart attack at the beginning of his annual visit to Edinburgh and was briefly confined to hospital. Since then, while Haynes’ physical health has curtailed some activities, his ability to be where the action is remains unbowed.
“He’s an optimist and he loves people,’ says Ger of Haynes. “Jim loves everyone. People are the most important thing in his life. He’s very open to everyone, and doesn’t discriminate against anyone. Anyone can go to his place.”
Being around such a beatific spirit has clearly changed Ger’s world as it has changed that of many others. In such globally challenging times especially, Haynes remains a beacon of light.
“I asked Jim if everything is getting worse in the world,” says Ger, “and he’s like, ‘Oh, it’s always been the same’. He has this positive attitude in everything he does. He calls himself a happy man, and he’s not pretending. He says he decided to be happy. It was an intellectual decision.”
The fact that Meeting Jim happened at all is testament to the power of such positivity.
“If you’re an artist, a young person, if you wat to make a film, sing or paint, if Jim’s around you’ll make it happen,” says Ger. “He did it for me me, and he’s done it for hundreds of people. He has this attitude that makes things happen and brings people together. He just says, let’s do it, why not? And it works.”
Meeting Jim premieres at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Filmhouse, June 23, 5.40pm, Vue Omni Centre, June 24, 6.20pm.
The Herald, June 21st 2018