Jim: The James Foley Story is ‘a touching, stirring, yet quiet celebration of a life’ says MacDara Conroy

Brian Oakes’ documentary on the late war correspondent James Foley – Jim, to his friends – is a portrait of a rare individual, one with the inner light to see the good in the worst situations, and the inner strength to endure much more than you or I, even with regard to our various personal struggles. The picture painted here is that of someone who, if not quite a genuine altruist with guilt among his motivations, was singular in his determination to record history as it happens, and amplify the voices of the voiceless. Though its inevitable end point, his murder for a terrorist propaganda video takes a firm back seat in this story, and rightly so.

For a film prompted by a death, Jim: The James Foley Story is remarkably full of life, in particular the first half, much of which is told by Jim himself, through photographs, video reports and B-roll he shot while on the front lines of conflict in Libya, where he was taken hostage for six weeks, and later Syria as the Arab Spring faded into winter. Interwoven with that footage, and clips of him from interviews and speeches, his big Boston Irish family express their bemusement at Jim’s draw to these dangerous places, while his fellow flak-jacketed hacks fill in the blanks of the person his parents and siblings never really knew: not only selfless, but fearless; a man of great physical courage but even greater moral courage.

Things take a bleaker turn at the halfway mark, when Jim’s story is no longer one of his own telling, silenced by captors who spread disinformation and sadistic torture with relish. Instead, fellow captive journalists relate the Jim they knew in the months before his life would come to an end – one of many players in a chilling reportage of man’s inhumanity to man, more resonant than any torture-porn horror film. At the same time, his distraught family back home struggle with grasping the meaning of his life, and the encroaching hopelessness of his predicament.

It’s powerful to witness the love and admiration and respect Jim inspired all round. It’s also telling how difficult it is for his younger brother John to come to terms with his calling in the abstract, but only get a sense of it when Jim’s actions directly influence his own life. It underscores the rarity of his character, and intensifies the rawness of his loss, especially when the world is no better off in the two years since his murder.

But we have his record, and Oakes has made from it a fitting tribute. Free of hagiography, The James Foley Story is a touching, stirring, yet quiet celebration of a life that makes for compelling viewing.

Jim: The James Foley Story opens at Dublin’s Light House Cinema on Friday September 2nd