“I wanted to protect Jim's legacy. I think - I hope - that he would be proud of it." Brian Oakes, director of JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY
You may not recognise the name James Foley straight away, but if you’ve been following current affairs for the last few years then chances are you may have watched him die. You've almost certainly seen a still image from the day of his death, when the 40-year-old freelance war correspondent knelt at the foot of a hooded executioner in a stretch of desert somewhere in northern Syria. It was an image that became famous all over the world, and the amount of people who actually watched his beheading – captured on video and made public – is quite sickening.
In tonight’s documentary, JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY we find out more about the man behind that shocking image, which one of his colleagues has called “the second-most iconic” image of the 21st Century. Only the planes flying into the World Trade Centre on 9/11 could top it for sheer terror and brutality.In August 2014, the video execution of Foley by ISIS exposed the world to the new face of terror. Even in the age of reality TV it shocked – and for those who watched the killing unfold, it is something they will never forget.
When I was given the screener of the film to watch for this week’s blog I steeled myself for the worst – surely the footage would play a large role in the tale, and the doco would not be for the faint-hearted. How wrong was I. JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY is indeed powerful and gut wrenching, but directed by his childhood friend Brian Oakes, it takes a very different approach. And therein lies it strength as a piece of great filmmaking. Instead of opting for the lowest common denominator, it tells Foley's tragic story through interviews with his family, friends and colleagues, while his fellow hostages reveal the chilling details of their time in captivity. It becomes Oakes’ personal attempt to reclaim a man he loved from the annals of the sensational, and the film is called "Jim" because that's what the director always called his childhood best friend.
An experienced motion graphics artist who has worked on high-profile documentaries like FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (which aired on Rialto Channel last year to much acclaim), Oakes was reportedly so intent on telling his own story of Foley that he decided to get behind the camera for his first feature-length film. It has been said that in order to disentangle Foley from the shackles of his brutal death, Oakes decided from the get-go that his portrait couldn't include the video of his subject's execution, or even still frames from the footage.
JIM is particularly heartbreaking not only because we all know how the very personal look at Foley’s life ends, but because we get to directly witness the director’s sense of loss and remorse. "Maybe I have guilt that I haven't even thought of yet," Oakes has admitted. "Maybe I should've spent more time with him or talked to him more about what he was doing. But this film for me was my way of carrying on Jim's work that he was doing in Syria, and letting people who are interested in his story know who he was.”
A celebration of the life of a man best known for his death, it definitely does a fine job of exactly that.
JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY premieres on Thursday 16th February at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel, SKY TV 039