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I Heard It through the Grapevine

Still from the film "I Heard It through the Grapevine" by Dick Fontaine. James Baldwin, an older man with grey-brown hair and a brown jacket, is looking past the camera on the right side with an unimpressed expression.
© Dick Fontaine, courtesy of the Dick Fontaine Collection, Harvard Film Archive
  • Director

    Dick Fontaine

  • USA / 1982
    91 min. / Original version with German subtitles

  • Original language


Two decades after the Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin revisits historical places stretching from the South to the North – from Selma and Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia and on to the battleground beaches of St. Augustine, Florida and the Dr Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D. C. On this journey down memory lane, he engages in conversations with friends, activists and fellow writers such as Amiri Baraka, Oretha Castle Haley and Chinua Achebe, reflecting on the past events that sparked the fight against racial segregation, the attacks on churches, racist police brutality and the arbitrary injustices which the black population had to endure. Questioning their own legacy, these luminaries look at the present and how little has actually been achieved in the wake of the movement, and we, the audience are equally encouraged to reflect on our own era. Dick Fontaine skilfully weaves archival materials into the accounts, making his film at once a poignant historical document and highly relevant today in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has been recently restored and made available by the Harvard Film Archive. (Jacqueline Nsiah)

Production Dick Fontaine. Director Dick Fontaine. Cinematography Ivan Strasburg, Jane Jackson. Editing Julian Fontaine, Keith James, Nigel Mercer. Music Corrnell Dupree, Gordon Edwards, Steve Gadd, Richard Tee Recorded at Mikell’s Restaurant, New York City, Carlton Reese and the Freedom Choir In Birmingham, Alabama, Walter Washington In New Orleans, Louisiana, Grachan Moncur III In Newark, New Jersey. Sound Judy Freeman, Pauk Filby. With James Baldwin, David Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Chinua Achebe.

Dick Fontaine, born in 1939, he began his film career in 1963 as a co-founder of Granada Television's World in Action Series and is credited with having introduced the methods of direct cinema to British television. Dick Fontaine has more than 40 films to his name, many of them documentary portraits of musicians. From 1995 to 2012 he headed the Documentary Department at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield, England.

Films: 1966: David, Moffett, and Ornette: The Ornette Coleman Trio (27 min.), Sound?? (25 min.). 1968: Who Is Sonny Rollins? (28 min.), Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up? (60 min.). 1970: Double Pisces, Scorpio Rising (58 min.), Norman Mailer v. Fun City, USA (50 min.). 1972: Death of a Revolutionary (30 min.). 1982: I Heard It through the Grapevine. 1983: Beat This; A Hip Hop History (60 min.). 1984: Malcolm X: No Sell Out (6 min.). 1986: Bombin' (60 min.). 1988: Art Blakey: The Jazz Messenger (78 min.). 1994: Betty Carter: New All the Time (18 min.). 2014: Sonny Rollins beyond the Notes (78 min.).

Bonus Material


  • Still from the film "I Heard It through the Grapevine" by Dick Fontaine. Two men, one of them wearing black sunglasses, are standing on a sand beach and looking at each other, seemingly in conversation. Behind them, waves are washing up from the sea.


    In “On the Road with James Baldwin” Hayley O’Malley explains how the famous writer’s vision for film dovetails with the documentary I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
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