Ovation and tears at premiere of James Foley documentary at Sundance Film Festival

A documentary about James Foley, the American journalist executed by ISIL, received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, leaving few dry eyes in the audience.

James Foley, second right, in the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story. Manu Brabo / Sundance Institute via AP Photo
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A documentary about James Foley, the American journalist executed by ISIL, received a standing ovation at its world premiere on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, leaving few dry eyes in the audience.

Directed by Brian Oakes, a childhood friend of Foley, Jim: The James Foley Story chronicles the life of the journalist through interviews with his family, friends and fellow reporters who worked or were held captive with him in Syria.

Foley’s parents, his three brothers and sister attended the premiere, along with reporters who in the film share never-before-heard details of his time in captivity.

The documentary uses childhood photos and videos of family gatherings, as well as Foley’s own work to offer an intimate portrait of a restless spirit set on making a difference and drawn to covering conflict.

Oakes said he was inspired to make the documentary to protect the legacy of his childhood friend.

“I felt a responsibility to Jim to take that on and I wanted to make sure that people knew who he was,” he said. “And I wanted the film to carry on the story that Jim was telling.

“The film is two parts: what I knew of Jim and what I didn’t know about Jim.”

The 40-year-old freelance journalist, who reported for GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse and other outlets, was captured in Syria in 2012 and beheaded in August 2014. A video of his execution triggered global outrage.

Foley’s parents say they are proud of the film and the way it portrays their son.

“One of the things that’s there is Jimmy’s joy, his joy of life, his joy of his work, his goodness and friendship to his fellow man,” said his father, John Foley. “It’s a bittersweet situation – there is a sadness and also pride.”

His mother, Diane Foley, said she hoped the film would reveal the hardships freelance journalists face and the plight of hostages and their families.

The documentary touches on the family’s frustration and feeling of abandonment as they sought information from the US government and were told they could face prosecution if they paid a ransom.

British singer Sting collaborated on a song, The Empty Chair, that is featured in the documentary.

“It was a very emotional experience,” he said. “I think it’s probably one of the most important films that anyone is going to see this year, in the light of what is going on in the world.”

HBO will broadcast the film in the US on February 6.

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