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Wednesday , April 24 2019

‘James Foley’ gets ovation, tears – Story of famous S Korean couple abducted by dictator at Sundance

Diane Foley (center), and her husband John (right), parents of slain photojournalist James Foley, pose with ‘Jim’ director Brian Oakes at the premiere of the documentary film at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Jan 23, in Park City, Utah. (AP)
Diane Foley (center), and her husband John (right), parents of slain photojournalist James Foley, pose with ‘Jim’ director Brian Oakes at the premiere of the documentary film at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Jan 23, in Park City, Utah. (AP)

PARK CITY, United States, Jan 24, (Agencies): A documentary about James Foley, the US 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,” Oakes 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.

 The stranger-than-fiction story about a famous South Korean film director and a glamorous actress abducted by North Korea’s movie-obsessed Kim Jong-il has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

“The Lovers and the Despot”, a documentary by British filmmakers Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, traces the bizarre tale of director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee, the golden couple of South Korean cinema in the 1960s.

“We approached this project with an open mind but, like most people, when you first hear the story, it does seem too fantastic to be true,” Cannan said. “Essentially our opinion shifted that way and this way as we made the film.”

The famous couple were married and the toast of the town with their two adopted children until their divorce over Chin’s affair with another woman. They eventually fell from grace in their country and ended up bankrupt.

As they struggled to revive their careers, both were kidnapped on orders of movie-mad Kim Jong-il, who was bent on using them to make films that could compete on the international stage.

At the time, Kim had not yet succeeded his father as North Korea’s leader.

Choi was the first to be abducted in 1977, while on a trip to Hong Kong where she was lured to discuss a movie deal.


Shin was snatched soon after when he traveled to Hong Kong in search of his ex-wife, with whom he had remained close. He was held in a North Korean prison for four years before being reunited with Choi.

Realizing their predicament, the couple cooperated with Kim, producing a series of movies and winning his trust.

They were allowed to travel to Europe to attend film festivals and managed a daring escape in 1989 while in Vienna to sign a movie deal, and sought asylum in the United States.

Chin died in 2006 but Choi, who now lives in Seoul, provided much of the narrative in the documentary along with the couple’s son and daughter and archival footage of the era.

Speculation that such disappearances were “voluntary defections” was common in the 1960s and 70s, and the Shin-Choi case was no exception. However, the initial doubts died down when Seoul officially announced the pair had been abducted.

Cannan and Adam said they became more and more convinced of the couple’s story as they researched the project and examined conversations with Kim that they had secretly recorded and smuggled out during their escape.

“There was no evidence to say that Shin and Choi did go willingly to North Korea,” Adam said. “The only real evidence we could find was these tape-recordings of the conversations with Kim Jong-il.

“And once we were aware of this, it became more difficult to construct a film around the mystery.”

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