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Sundance Doc Audience Award Winner ‘Jim: The James Foley Story’ Paints Harrowing Portrait of ISIS Captive

Sundance Doc Audience Award Winner 'Jim: The James Foley Story' Paints Harrowing Portrait of ISIS Captive

“Jim: The James Foley Story”

Access often makes the difference between a good and a great documentary. When the family of the late freelance war journalist James Foley—who was executed on camera by Isis for the world to see, something that is not shown in HBO’s “Jim: The James Foley Story”—decided to pursue a documentary about their son, they went to one of his oldest friends, New York graphic designer and filmmaker Brian Oakes (“Living with Lincoln”).  His first solo feature world premiered in the Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition and won the Audience Award. Gravitas Ventures has acquired U.S. VOD and DVD rights.

“I made this film to carry on the stories that Jim needed us to know,” he has stated. “It’s important that we understand the significant role of today’s conflict journalists and why they risk their lives to tell the world how bad it can be.” When I ran into him at the Cinetic Media party at Sundance, he told me how personal this movie was to him. That made me want to see it. 

I was not disappointed. What emerges is a portrait of a well-knit family and the maverick videographer Foley (we see footage he shot himself), who could not stay away from the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. But the movie’s strength is the depth of the interviews with Foley’s comrades on the front lines, women and men, who share their view of him, and the European prisoners who were in captivity with him. (The reenactments are well-done.) It’s gut-wrenching as one after the other of these men tell us what they experienced—torture is the word—and describe how they each got out.

But not Foley. That’s because our government was unwilling to negotiate for his release. He was kidnapped in Syria on Thanksgiving Day 2012, and Foley’s family tried to raise money for an exorbitant ransom, which they were not supposed to do. They did not assemble enough in time. 

At the post-screening Q & A at Sundance, Foley’s parents admitted that the film was healing after what was “horrific as a family to be honest,” said Diane Foley. “This film, because it brought all of us and our voices together, has been a healing. Jim was a positive, hopeful and compassionate man. We have come to know him more as people have told us how he touched them.”

They hope to continue their son’s legacy by stimulating a discussion about several complex issues, said Diane: “finding ways to help Americans to come home. We think American citizens are valuable. One of our campaigns explores the issues and researches in collaboration with our government, ways to make Americans more of a priority to return from captivity. And how important conflict journalism is— fearless journalists let us know what is happening in the world. That’s a way that Jim can live on.”

Oakes pointed out that there’s “a big difference between freelance journalists and those on staff: foreign bureaus and media have responsibility to freelance journalists as well.”

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