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Saving the Baldwin Film

Karen Thorsen, director of James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, and cowriter Douglas Dempsey discuss the making of their award-winning documentary, the challenges of restoring the original 16 mm film elements, and the necessity of ensuring access to this powerful film during the digital age. Produced in association with Maysles Films and PBS/American Masters, The Price of the Ticket premiered in 1990 at Sundance and went on to win numerous awards at home and abroad. An emotional portrait, a social critique, and a passionate plea for human equality, its extensive vérité footage allows Baldwin to tell his own story: exploring what it means to be born black, impoverished, gay, and gifted in a world that has yet to understand that “all men are brothers.” “On-camera witnesses” include the late Maya Angelou (she reads passages from the author’s writings), Amiri Baraka, David Leeming, Bobby Short, and William Styron. Now considered a documentary film classic, The Price of the Ticket has been restored with the help of the Ford Foundation, Maysles Documentary Center, National Endowment for the Arts, and Stan and Joanne Marder. This conversation and the world premiere of the film’s restoration took place on October 12, 2014, at the National Gallery of Art. This program was supported by Dr. Darryl Atwell and Dr. Renicha McCree to honor the 90th anniversary of the birth of James Baldwin (1924–1987), American essayist, novelist, playwright, poet, and activist.