The C.L.R. James documentary project was established by a crew of volunteers working with the education charity WORLDwrite and its Citizen TV station WORLDbytes. Alongside the development of this knowledge portal we set out to produce a fully fledged feature length documentary. The final film was completed in April 2016 and is receiving tremendous feedback. Our aim is to bring C.L.R. James’ life, impact and works to a whole new audience.
Although the book for which C.L.R. James is best known is The Black Jacobins, documenting history’s only successful slave revolt in Haiti at the turn of the 19th century, C.L.R. James’ legacy goes beyond this inspiring book. Through this project we have explored the full spectrum of his voluminous works and the final film includes interviews with leading scholars on the works of C.L.R. James, with those who knew him well and those for whom his works were foundational. Interwoven with hitherto unseen archive material, it was filmed at prominent locations associated with his life and involved over 200 volunteers.
The charity worked with key partners to develop this project and is most grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Trust for London for providing vital grant support, allowing all participants to access free film training. Key partners who have helped make this project possible and provided archive workshops, filming opportunties and more are the Museum of London Docklands, the British Library thanks to Curator Dr Philip Hatfield, the George Padmore institute, Nelson Library and Manchester People’s History Museum. Special thanks too are due to Christian Hogsbjerg, Andy Smith and Rachel Douglas, whose written works, foundational support and enthusiam has both helped inspire this project and made much filming possible.
WORLDwrite, established in 1994 and a charity since 1997 is now known for its pioneering ‘crowd filmed’ examinations of both historical and contemporary events and figures. The charity is dedicated to advancing new knowledge, skills and ideas and with its Citizen TV station WORLDbytes provides free film training for volunteers to tackle challenging issues.
The charity has already made a number of acclaimed documentaries which have made a significant impact. See for example Sylvia Pankhurst: everything is Possible. They have: won numerous accolades; been screened across the globe; raised new levels of debate in schools and universities and been broadcast on digital channels. This project promises to be WORLDwrite’s most ambitious to date.
C.L.R. James in a nutshell
The following excerpts from texts by and on C.L.R. James provide a good overview of why his work is so significant.
C.L.R. James: I, a man of the Caribbean, have found that it is in the study of Western literature, Western philosophy and Western history that I have found out the things that I have found out, even about the underdeveloped countries.
Robert A. Hill: The key to James’s political vision and his intellectual identity was the idea of emancipation.
Christian Hogsbjerg: That C L R James since his death in 1989 has generally been remembered not as a revolutionary Marxist but as a ‘harmless icon’ is not altogether a surprise. After Leon Trotsky’s murder in 1940, James himself noted that: “idiots and bourgeois scoundrels always emphasise Trotsky’s personal brilliance whereby they seek to disparage Trotsky’s method. The two are inseparable. His natural gifts were trained and developed by Marxism”. The same was fundamentally true of James himself and it is above all as a courageous, creative Marxist and a thinker in the revolutionary democratic tradition that we should remember him.
Kenan Malik: He was an icon of black liberation struggles, and yet someone whose politics was steeped in a love of Western literature and Western civilisation. He was a man whose affection for cricket was matched only by his love for Shakespeare. Above all, James was a humanist who never lost his faith in the transformative power of collective human action.
Scott McLemee: James’ writing moved with grace and brilliance among the most diverse topics, finding links between the game of cricket and Aristotle’s Poetics, and weaving together connections among Shakespeare’s plays, Lenin’s politics and the problems facing developing countries. To read James is an exercise in rediscovering the world — and an invitation not only to reinterpret it, but also to change it.
Kent Worcester: These days it seems as if everyone and their uncle possesses their own, private C.L.R. James.
C.L.R. James: I like to think of myself as a Marxist who has made serious contributions to Marxism in various fields. I want to be considered one of the important Marxists.