This documentary film, directed by James’ childhood friend, Brian Oakes, uses Foley’s own footage, recordings of talks he gave, and interviews with family, friends, colleagues and his fellow hostages from his time in Syria. Oakes’ purpose with this film was to circumvent the two-dimensional narrative of the infamous photo – of Foley dressed in an orange jumpsuit, knelt down in the Syrian desert in the moments before his death – that became the second most recognised image of twenty-first America, after those of 9/11.
The storytelling is straightforward, perhaps touching too briefly on the impact of James’ work, focusing less on the importance of James’ footage, and instead on how his family still grapple with whether his work warranted the personal risk. It’s emotive, but how could it not be? It doesn’t give the feeling of contrition; reconstructions of the hostages’ experiences are illustrative rather than dramatic and there’s very little screen time given over to tears – yet it compels you to weep, uncontrollably and repeatedly. That the director was a lifelong friend of Jim’s creates an intimacy and candidness in his interviews with Jim’s family that is devoid of any sensationalism – most poignantly by the director’s decision not to include the footage of Foley’s execution.
The film exposes James Foley’s quiet and simple desire to continue learning about other people and telling the world about them - often to the detriment of his, and perhaps others’, safety. Foley was concerned, first and foremost, with hearing others’ perspectives, understanding them, and telling these people’s stories to the world. As the director puts it: “He’s in the news for how he died and he would have been horrified by that. He never wanted to be the story. He was there for the civilians.”
As intended, the film’s message of the vital roles played by conflict journalism and free speech comes through loud and clear as we hear from his fellow hostages who, owing to different political circumstances in their pro-negotiation European homelands, were freed where James was not. Adding to this, the footage shot by Foley himself offers a raw perspective of the impact of war on the Libyan (and, subsequently, the Syrian) people, as well as a touching perspective on Foley’s career.
As well as telling the story of a dedicated journalist, it is an upsetting and troubling story about an upsetting and troubling crisis. As you watch the film, it’s not a case of being torn between feeling sorry for the Libyan and Syrian civilians or empathising with James Foley and The West; it simply inspires sorrow for the world we live in.
Although less about the significance of the work Foley produced, the film provides an insightful look into the work of a generous and dedicated conflict journalist, of the life of a hostage, and of a quiet, often disorganised, yet incredible man. It’s deeply moving, and utterly heart-breaking.
|What||Jim: The James Foley Story film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
02 Sep 16 – 02 Nov 16, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|