Jim: The James Foley Story

 

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A highly sympathetic but over-extended portrait of the journalist beheaded by Isis in 2014.

 
Jim - The James Foley Story
  

This documentary feature by Brian Oakes is something of a companion piece to the memorable Which Way to the Front Line from Here? (2013) which paid tribute to the journalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington killed in Libya in 2011.  Made in much the same spirit, this picture takes a detailed look at the life of another reporter, the American James Foley who, having selected journalism as his sphere, travelled to Iraq and later, as shown here, went to Libya and then to Syria. Notwithstanding the experience of being seized and imprisoned in 2011 (on which occasion he was only released after forty-four days), a period back home in America with his devoted parents, three brothers and a sister confirmed  that he was restless when on home ground. Consequently, the following year found him in Aleppo reporting from there and  displaying both  moral and physical courage by doing what he felt called to do despite the inherent danger. Another visit home followed in the autumn but he chose to return to Syria and on 22nd November 2012 he and a colleague were kidnapped.

 

This time around Foley was missing for the greater part of a year before emails arrived from his captors making demands on his family. By 2014 he was placed with other captured journalists in a one-room jail and, although many of them would ultimately gain release, the forty-year-old Jim Foley was beheaded in August 2014 after being forced  to appear in a propaganda video for his captors, Isis.

 

An honourable but tragic career is traced here in what is essentially chronological order. The first half of the film is particularly well assembled: fellow journalists, notably Nicole Tung and Clare Morgana Gillis, describe their shared experiences working with him, while the family recall Jim's life from childhood onwards (Jim Foley himself is seen giving a university address on his work in which he denies being a hero although he certainly  emerges from this film as a good man, a peacemaker whose religious faith encouraged him in the view that what mattered in life was acting in ways that helped others).

 

Family photos and extracts from Jim Foley's video reports bring variety to this first half, but the  film necessarily takes on a different character thereafter.  This second half, dealing with his long-term imprisonment, is less effective. Surviving journalists imprisoned with him including the Dane Daniel Rye Ottosen convey vividly the stress and pain involved, but even so the footage here comes to seem over-extended while background images using actors seem an unnecessary feature. We are told at the outset that we will be spared the sight of Jim Foley's death but the scenes that follow his execution would again gain by being more succinct (the film is only a little short of two hours). Nevertheless, at its best this is an impressive and moving work that pays tribute to a man who deserves to be remembered.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring: Michael Foley, Diane Foley, John Foley Sr., John Foley Jr., Katie Foley, Mark Foley, Nicole Tung, Clare Morgana Gillis, Daniel Rye Ottosen, Manu Brabo.

 

Dir Brian Oakes, Pro Eva Lipman, George Kunhardt  and Teddy Kumhardt, Written by Chris Chuang with Heather MacDonald and Brian Oakes, Ph Clair Popkin, Ed Aleks Gezentsvey, Music Dan Romer, Saul Simon MacWilliams and Osei Essed.

 

Kunhardt Films/Marigold Pictures/HBO Documentary Films-Dogwoof.
111 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 2 September 2016. Cert. 15.