Ovation, tears for James Foley film at Sundance festival

A documentary about slain journalist James Foley (above) received a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival.
A documentary about slain journalist James Foley (above) received a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. PHOTO: AFP

Park City, Utah (AFP) - A documentary about James Foley, the United States journalist slain by the Islamic State group, premiered to a standing ovation on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, leaving few dry eyes in the audience.

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

Foley's parents, three brothers and sister attended the premiere along with several reporters who appear in the film and gave never-before-heard details of Foley's time in captivity.

The documentary uses childhood photos, videos of Christmas gatherings and family reunions, as well as Foley's own work to offer an intimate portrait of a restless spirit keen 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. Video of his gruesome execution triggered global outrage and introduced much of the world to the Islamic State jihadist group.

Foley's parents said they were proud of the film and the way it portrayed 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," his father, John Foley, said. "It's a bittersweet situation - there is a sadness and also pride."

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

The documentary touches on the family's frustration and feeling of abandonment as they sought information from the US government following Foley's capture and were told they could face prosecution if they paid a ransom for his release. "The first year was horrible, nothing was done," John Foley said. "Jim was not a priority."

Since Foley's murder, President Barack Obama's administration has announced changes to how it handles hostage situations involving US citizens, and said it will not prosecute families if they wish to pay a ransom.

"The American hostages coming home from Iran recently, that is very hopeful to us," Diane Foley said. "So we are hopeful that American hostages can become more of a national priority."

British singer Sting, who collaborated on the song The Empty Chair featured in the documentary, told reporters that he was moved by the film and its testament to Foley's "kindness and goodness."

"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. "It's an amazing antidote to a lot of the nonsense that we hear."

The HBO network, which has acquired the US TV rights to the documentary, plans to air the film on Feb 6.