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Up Next for Raoul Peck: ‘The Young Karl Marx’ + a James Baldwin Doc Made in Cooperation w/ His Estate

Up Next for Raoul Peck: 'The Young Karl Marx' + a James Baldwin Doc Made in Cooperation w/ His Estate

News from the European Film Market continues to pour in, as I sort through for anything of interest to this blog… like this one.

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck is now attached to direct “The Young Karl Marx,” a period drama on the shaky friendship between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – the German intellectual titans and fathers of Marxism – charting their completion of the Communist Manifesto. 

In what is described as quite an ambitious project, the film will star German actors, August Diehl as Marx, and Alexander Fehling as Engels.

Produced by Agat Films and Peck’s own Velvet Film, as well as Rohfilm in Germany and Artemis Prods. in Belgium, Peck will direct the international co-production from a script he co-wrote with Pascal Bonitzer.

“Avoiding the habitual caricature of the old bearded revolutionary icon, this film is the coming of age of two young and daring intellectuals who will have an extraordinary impact on the world of the 20th century and beyond,” said Peck, whose latest film, “Murder in Pacot” (highlighted a number of times on this blog) will be screening at the Berlin International Film Festival this week.

The filmmaker is also currently working on a documentary on James Baldwin. Although details on that aren’t yet available in full. What we do know is that it’s actually a project he’s been working on for at least 6 years, and it is being made with the full cooperation of the Baldwin estate, which is always a plus.

He also describes it as “a very creative documentary.” What might he mean by that? In short, the film will toy with the idea that Baldwin actually wrote what was to be an ambitious book – “a masterpiece” as Peck puts it – on Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., whose lives all ended in assassinations. Baldwin knew it would be a challenge, and didn’t believe it would sell, but he felt that he needed to write it. Baldwin never did write the book (Peck learned about it via letters Baldwin sent to his agent); but Peck’s “creative documentary” will imagine that he did. As the filmmaker states: “So the starting point of the film is to say – yes, he wrote it. He just didn’t bind it together, but if you go through his work, the film is there.”

All Peck has to build on are 30 pages of Baldwin’s notes for the project, and the rights to all of Baldwin’s writings, of course, since it’s a project being made with Baldwin’s estate’s blessings.

Why a film on Baldwin? Peck’s response: “Because Baldwin is my life… I started reading Baldwin when I was 14 or 15, and I realized as an adult a lot of the things I was saying came from him.”

Has a definitive film/documentary on the life of James Baldwin ever been produced? I don’t believe so, which is unbelievable, and which makes Peck’s project all the more significant!

When I know more, I’ll share here.

A fearless filmmaker and activist who, I would argue, deserves even more recognition than he’s received over the years, within the international filmmaking community, as one of Haiti’s few filmmakers, and a primary exporter of Haitian films to the rest of the world, Peck’s complex body of work has been covered plentiful here on S&A, since the blog was launched in 2009, much of it still sadly underseen – “Lumumba,” “Moloch Tropical,” “Fatal Assistance,” most recently “Murder in Pacot” and more. 

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