Film about James Baldwin, newly preserved by Yale Film Archive, will screen at N.Y. Film Festival

  • Three men sitting in front of building with arched doorways and domes
    A still from the documentary short by Sedat Pakay MFA '68 shows writer James Baldwin in Istanbul in 1970.
August 23, 2021

James Baldwin: From Another Place, a 1973 short film newly preserved by the Yale Film Archive, will screen at the 2021 New York Film Festival on Sept. 26 and Sept. 30 at Lincoln Center. The 12-minute short was shot by Sedat Pakay MFA ’68 in Istanbul in 1970 when Baldwin was living in exile in Turkey.

In 2017, a year after Pakay died, the original elements and prints of his films, along with work prints, audio elements, and outtakes from the documentary, were acquired by the Film Archive. In 2019, the archive received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to support the film’s preservation. Despite pandemic delays, the project was completed in February 2021.  With additional support from Cinema Conservancy, the archive also produced high-resolution digital scans of outtakes from the film’s production.

Capturing “the profound paradox” of Baldwin in Istanbul
The film depicts James Baldwin musing about race, the American fascination with sexuality, the generosity of the Turks, and how being in another country, in another place, prompts the traveler to reexamine their own attitudes and preconceptions.

“Pakay’s little-known cinematic gem records the writer’s movements through the city of Istanbul over a three-day period in May 1970 and frames Baldwin’s assertion with seductive photography of private interiors, city streets, and a boat ride on the Bosporus. Like no other existing documentary, the black-and-white film captures the profound paradox of Baldwin’s transatlantic vantage point by showing how he both belongs and remains an outsider in the teeming half-European, half-Asian Turkish metropolis,” wrote film scholar Magdalena Zaborowska in her 2009 book, James Baldwin′s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile.

Pakay, a photographer and filmmaker, was born in Istanbul in 1945. In 1967, he began shooting portraits of well-known artists in a project that would eventually include such subjects as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Gordon Parks, and Josef Albers. James Baldwin: From Another Place was his second film, following one made earlier that year about his Yale School of Art and Architecture instructor entitled Walker Evans: His Time - His Presence - His Silence.

Outtakes reveal new facets of Baldwinand the filmmaker
The project resulted in new 35mm preservation negative and screening prints, as well as digital preservation elements, from the original 35mm camera negative and magnetic soundtrack. The digitization of nearly an hour of mostly silent outtakes is an additional boon for researchers.

“The outtake material is incredibly rich,” said managing archivist Brian Meacham, who oversaw both projects. “We see Baldwin as he prepares for an interview, as he walks through a busy marketplace, and as he rides around Istanbul in the back seat of a car. We even catch a brief glimpse of the filmmaker himself as he sets up one of the shots. Without sound, the viewer focuses on the visual, and the footage of Baldwin in Istanbul reminds us both of Baldwin’s intellect and curiosity, and of Pakay’s skill at capturing memorable images.”

About the Yale Film Archive
Founded in 1982 and incorporated into Yale University Library in 2017, the Yale Film Archive traces its roots back to 1968 when Yale acquired the Griggs Collection of 206 classic films on 16mm. Today, the collection encompasses a growing archive of more than 7,000 elements, including many unique and original 35mm and 16mm films. It also holds a video collection of over 40,000 DVDs, Blu-rays, and VHS spanning the history of cinema from 160 countries. The archive occupies the seventh floor of Sterling Memorial Library, renovated in 2020 with customized viewing booths, staff offices, video collection stacks, a film preservation suite, and a 23-seat screening room. The archive’s collections, staff, space, and programming support teaching, research, and film conservation at Yale as well as public programs and outreach, including the long-running series, Treasures from the Yale Film Archive.

For more information about the preservation project, contact Brian Meacham, managing archivist.  Read the New York Film Festival announcement.

— By Tricia Carey and Brian Meacham