Brian Oakes‘ Jim: The James Foley Story, which I felt conflicted about after catching it last week in Park City, will air on HBO on Saturday, 2.6.
My main complaint was that the doc felt “too worshipful.” Oakes presents Foley as “a great fellow, a ballsy adventurer, clever, resourceful, generous of heart,” I noted. “I’m sorry to say this but two hours of adoration can wear you down a bit. Was there anything about Foley that was lacking or imperfect? Most likely but the doc won’t go there.” Jim is not my idea of a wildly dishonest film, but Oakes clearly wanted to pay tribute to his childhood friend first and get to the bottom of things second.
But even with this understandable motive there’s a definite feeling of denial when you listen to Oakes speak with with The Frame‘s John Horn during a 2.2 broadcast.
Foley “loved people, telling their stories, the underdogs, the victims of war,” Oakes tells Horn. “[He] had the recipe of a war correspondent…a rare breed [requiring] physical courage, moral courage….you need to be calm under very stressful situations.”
Horn asks why Foley was a conflict journalist in Libya and Syria. Why in particular did he decide to cover Syria after being seized in Libya and held for over 40 days, knowing full well that Syria was, if anything, a scarier place than Libya?
Obviously Foley, like many journalists who’ve covered war zones, was a kind of war junkie — risk, danger, adrenaline. That famous Chris Hedges quote that was used at the beginning of The Hurt Locker surely applies: “The rush of battle is a potent and almost lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Hedges, a seasoned conflict journalist himself, added that “war gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”
Instead Oakes tells Horn that conflict journalists do what they do “to be on the front lines, to give us information,” and that they gradually acquire “a soldier-esque quality…when you leave that reality and you come back to our world, you need to go back there.”
Oakes’ bizarre refusal to admit that his late friend was almost certainly addicted to the life of a war-zone journalist is essentially what’s wrong with his film. What’s so deplorable about Foley having succumbed to the same rush that so many others have admitted to and written about? Why not just lay that on the table? You can’t play games or pussyfoot around with material like this.
Jim: The James Foley Story marks Oakes’ directorial debut. My Sundance opinion was a minority one. Oakes film received the festival’s Audience Award for a U.S. Documentary.