The tragic and barbaric fate of the American freelance journalist James Foley – who was imprisoned by the Isis and then finally beheaded in a video posted on YouTube – became the second most newsworthy event of the century in the US, second only to September 11th.
Foley was a an independent reporter in the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. He picked his job despite knowing the risks, and he always accepted that the outcome may not be rosy. He was held captive for the first time in Libya as he reported on the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. His release was widely publicised in the world media, but Foley seemed undaunted, and soon after he embarked in a much more dangerous mission in Syria, which would also be his very final one.
Jim: The James Foley Story is a saccharine-doused account of the life of a superhuman. The two-hour film is packed with images from his childhood and heartfelt statements from his family and friends about his virtues. He was a courageous, resilient, generous and charismatic man, the ultimate American hero. Very few interviewees point out his shortcomings, perhaps except for the conflict journalist Clara, who highlights Foley macho-aggressiveness and questions whether he was actually doing good and helping the people in the conflict zones.
The importance of independent journalists in war conflict zones cannot be overstated, and there is absolutely no doubt that Foley performed a much needed informative role. The problem is that the film barely investigates what Foley achieved as a journalist, instead consistently showing his ultra-positive personal qualities. At one point we are told that Foley helped to raise money for a hospital and ambulance in Aleppo, but we are never told how he did that, and how the people benefited from these facilities. For a a journalist, the impact of their work on is far more important than the endeavour in itself, and this is where the film fails to do. At one point Foley’s father claims: “Jim is in a line of journalists that gave his life to tell the truth” – so why doesn’t the film examine and reveal this “truth”?
The film does contextualise any of the wars and conflicts taking place. Presenting a personal story does not prevent a filmmaker from examining the social and political circumstances that led to the conjecture in question. What is it that drove Foley to the war zones? The film often says that he was very altruistic and religiously-tolerant, but why is it that he picked Lybia and Syria? Why the interest in these two countries? Was his reporting critical of American belligerence and meddling? Was his reporting authentic and passionate? The film doesn’t answer any these questions at all.
Most of the second half of the film is a reenactment of the time James Foley was in captivity in Syria with another 19 journalists. The images and strangely somber and beautiful. The plight of this westerners is explored in minute detail, including their physical pain and profound anguish. They are often tortured and starved, and are constantly in fear of the outcome of their predicament. on the other hand, the film hardly exposes the plight of the civilians in Libya and Syria, which is what Foley did as a journalist.
While James Foley himself may have been a very good journalist, impartial and empathetic, this film certainly isn’t. It’s simply a highly romanticised tale of American resilience and grandiosity.
Recently the film Dugma: The Button explored the Syrian War from a very different perspective – the eyes of suicide bombers. Just click here in order to read our review.
Jim: The James Foley Story is distributed by Dogwoof. It is out in UK cinemas on September 2nd.
You can watch the film trailer here: