Jim: The James Foley Story


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Jim: The James Foley Story
"Oakes is careful not to make his film hagiographic. Jim is presented as restless, troubled by a sense of guilt at his advantages, and sometimes naive."

On the 19th of August 2014, the world reacted in horror to the news that James Foley, a US journalist held hostage by Daesh, had been executed. Michael, his brother, first heard of it over the phone from a journalist looking for a reaction. Although James had been a hostage for nearly two years, he had never expected it to come to this. In this documentary by James' friend Brian Oakes, he and other family members, together with fellow journalists and some of the other hostages who shared those final weeks, remember the man they knew, creating tribute that ensures he will be remembered as more than just another unfortunate name in the headlines.

James - or Jim, as he came to be known - grew up n the quiet town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. There's relatively little here about his childhood - the film centres on the life he chose for himself, not what just happened to happen - but we see enough to observe that he was comfortably off, well educated, and surrounded by opportunity. So why did he choose to go to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, where he was held prisoner for 44 days? And why, after that experience, did he feel the need to go to Syria?

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This is the central mystery that the film sets out to explore. It's a mystery, at any rate, to Michael, but he acknowledges that there was always something about Jim that he didn't get. His understanding of their differences has changed over time and this contributes strongly to the film's emotional arc. Other freelance journalists who watched the way Jim worked could relate to him more easily, but even some of them describe him as crazy. He was the sort of guy who, when old that a situation was really dangerous, would only get more excited about exploring it.

Oakes is careful not to make his film hagiographic. Jim is presented as restless, troubled by a sense of guilt at his advantages, and sometimes naive. A friend explains how he raised money to buy an ambulance for a Damascus hospital without considering that it would probably be seized by militants and used to mount a weapon. Yet everybody who knew him seems to have found him an uplifting person to be around, and in the final part of the film, a fellow hostage's memories of the comfort they brought to each other provide the kind of intimate insight most documentarians only dream of.

The use of interview footage with Jim, clips from speeches he gave and footage of him doing his job means that his own voice comes through clearly in the film. By focusing on one person's story, it throws the horrors of these several conflicts into sharp relief, and it never forgets the difference between Jim's experience - the product of an active choice - and the experiences of those whose homes have become war zones. Jim never wanted to be the centre of the story, we are told, and perhaps by watching his story, more people will discover not only why work like his matters but why the people it focused on matter too.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2016
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Jim: The James Foley Story packshot
A documentary about the life and work of American journalist James Foley, who was killed by terrorists in 2014.
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Director: Brian Oakes

Writer: Chris Chuang, Heather MacDonald

Starring: Unai Aranzadi, Zac Baillie, Manu Brabo, Mosa'ab Elshamy, James Foley, Katie Foley, Mark Foley, Michael Foley, Diane Foley

Year: 2016

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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