Jim: The James Foley Story: NZIFF Review
Most people know the name James Foley.
And that's largely due to the way he was taken from this world; beheaded, in an orange jump suit by a masked captor in 2014.
But director Brian Oakes' documentary about the titular field correspondent aims to flesh out more of the man whose life will be unknown to many. However, this is a doco of two halves; the first concentrates on giving us the back-story of a brother who caused concern to many with his life choices and exacerbated fears when he was captured in Libya.
The second half becomes a piece about being a hostage, by using those who were with James when he was taken in Syria by IS to share their story and recollections of the man.
And to be frank, while parts of Oakes' doco run the serious risk of deifying Foley thanks to his damned good decency, there's no denying the ultimate resolution of the piece which uses some of the most intimate of moments ever committed to film will undoubtedly leave you emotionally wrecked.
That's due in large parts to Oakes' creation of a film that takes its time to paint a portrait of a man whose sole MO was nothing but the greater good. Be it in his desire to help document a hospital's attempts to save children being shelled by their own government forces or by putting other captors first when in the direst of situations, it's clear that Foley was a good man, whose selflessness was didn't go unnoticed by others.
Using archive footage, interviews with the Foley family, access to emails sent by hostage negotiators and in the latter parts reconstructions, Oakes' desire is clearly to provide a legacy for his friend. Which is in itself no mean feat - and understandable given a) that the brutality of the man's death was the reason he achieved global notoriety and b) that in the face of such tragedy, some kind of good has to emerge.
In fact, one colleague, talking of Foley's selflessness, decries the fact his death gave him a face on the stage and he'd likely be horrified that it were not those of the innocent civilians caught up in the conflicts in Syria and Libya being discussed.
But what emerges is the collective guilt of the family (natural perhaps) over the wait to get any information and Oakes takes a swing at the US Government for not doing more at a brisker pace, given the others in Foley's captivity are freed. Yet, it's a weak shot that has no repercussions and even a cursory glance over Wikipedia shows Oakes leaves out the information over a botched rescue attempt as if to further fuel the fire and hint at a simmering sore that lies exposed.
While it's clear that Jim: The James Foley Story wants to leave a picture of a man who made a difference, its moving testament is not in the construction of the film, or the casual way interviewees address their director (leading to questions of whether professional distance has been maintained) but purely in the demonstration of what Foley was and what a difference he made to those around him.
In the wake of the tragedy and horrific end that befell him, Oakes' sole desire is to have friends and family attest to his virtues, and one assumes this emotional outtake is what Oakes wants us to take away from the film - a sense that while men can do horrific evil still in this world, there is still an overbearing good that cannot be snuffed out.