[Marxism] Mother of slain journalist James Foley says filmmaker took their story

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 19 15:42:39 MDT 2018

(I got an invitation to a press screening for this garbage. I might go 
just to write a hatchet job.)

Washington Post, September 12, 2018
Mother of slain journalist James Foley says filmmaker took their story
By Shane Harris

As Diane Foley watched the new movie “Viper Club,” about an American 
freelance journalist taken hostage by terrorists in Syria and his 
mother’s struggles to free him, her suspicions were confirmed — and her 
anger stoked.

“This sounds like my son’s story,” she told herself. “This sounds like 
my story.”

The parallels between Foley and Helen Sterling, played by Susan 
Sarandon, are striking. So much so that Foley was infuriated to learn of 
the film’s existence only after it had been finished.

“It’s so blatantly my story,” Foley said in an interview after leaving a 
screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday. She 
said the filmmakers had lifted moments, conversations and months-long 
struggles from her life and misrepresented the work of journalists like 
her son, James, without consulting her or any other families whose loved 
ones were held hostage and killed.

And it raised a question, more philosophical than legal: Can a story 
ever be so traumatic and personal that it belongs to its subject?

Sarandon plays a nurse (like Foley) who’s counseled by well-meaning but 
ineffective government officials not to speak publicly about her son’s 
abduction and the threat to his life. She’s frustrated to find that FBI 
agents investigating his kidnapping aren’t talking to State Department 
officials who are supposedly in charge of diplomatic efforts to free 
him. Ultimately, Helen makes contact with powerful people outside the 
government who tap their own influential networks to try to get her son 
out of Syria.

This happened in real life, to Foley and to the families of other 
journalists and aid workers who were kidnapped by the Islamic State and 
in some cases met the same fate as James, who was beheaded in a video 
blasted across YouTube in 2014.

In a surreal collision of life and art, YouTube is distributing “Viper 
Club,” first theatrically in October, in time for awards season, and 
later online through its paid premium service. The platform came under 
withering criticism for not acting fast enough to remove gruesome 
beheading videos when Foley and other Islamic State hostages were killed.

Maryam Keshavarz, the film’s co-writer and director, acknowledged that 
the story is inspired by the experiences of Foley and others. She says 
that by her count, she has read hundreds of articles about the hostages 
and watched several documentaries. She even initially named the film 
“Vulture Club,” after a real group of journalists who report from war 
zones and other hot spots.

But, Keshavarz insists, hers is a work of fiction.

“I was moved by real-life events,” she said. But “Viper Club” “isn’t one 
person’s story.” The ordeals of Foley, journalist Steven J. Sotloff, aid 
worker Kayla Mueller and many others taken prisoner over the years 
created a canvas on which Keshavarz said she told a new story about the 
struggles facing journalists who work in the world’s most dangerous places.

Keshavarz met last month in New York with Foley, after the hostage’s 
mother contacted the filmmaker to express her concerns.

“The director represented this as a totally fictional story,” Foley 
said, but “she really knew our story rather intimately.”

Keshavarz was under no legal obligation to consult Foley or other 
victims’ families, nor did she have to pay them for their story. “Life 
rights,” which filmmakers sometimes obtain when they’re making a story 
based on a real person, entitle the artist to exclusive access to the 
subject for interviews and consultation, said Russell Smith, an 
entertainment and media lawyer with the firm SmithDehn LLP.

“You’re not required to get a life-rights deal,” said Smith, who 
consulted with Foley about the film but is not representing her or her 
charitable foundation, established in her son’s memory.

“Imagine if you had to get Donald Trump’s permission to do the Donald 
Trump story,” Smith said. “That would be absurd and contrary to the 
First Amendment.”

But did Keshavarz have an ethical obligation to speak to Foley?

“We’re dealing with people’s lives here,” Smith said. “People who were 
slaughtered on YouTube. Just out of respect for another human being, I’d 
have thought you’d want to get it right with the family. Which doesn’t 
mean you have to do what the family says.”

When Foley eventually met with Keshavarz, there was no time to change 
the film. But she remained concerned that the filmmaker would depict her 
son and his colleagues as “reckless adrenaline junkies” and not 
cautious, conscientious professionals who were keenly aware of the risks 
they had taken.

The members of the Viper Club end up introducing Helen to a network of 
wealthy benefactors who can raise ransom money or potentially mount a 
rescue mission. The real Vulture Club, several members said, is a social 
media group where journalists exchange leads on fixers, safe hotels and 
other tips on reporting in dangerous places. Foley and some members of 
the group said that portraying it as a clandestine organization that 
organizes ransom payments distorts reporters’ work and could put them at 

“This film was made without consultation with anyone whose real-life 
experiences it lifts from, nor with any consideration for the safety or 
security of freelance reporters like the one it depicts,” said Emma 
Beals, an independent journalist and advisory board member of Hostage 
US, a nonprofit that supports families of Americans taken captive overseas.

Employees from YouTube’s parent company, Google, also met with Foley and 
discussed the film. Initially, the company offered to host her as a 
guest at the premiere and to donate an online advertisement for her 
foundation, Foley said. She declined the invitation because she didn’t 
want to appear to be endorsing the film.

Later, Google said it would give $10,000 to the foundation and then 
upped the amount to $30,000, she said. YouTube said in a statement the 
company is “eager to offer support to this Foundation, because we 
recognize the value of good journalism and a free press.”

“We have the deepest sympathy for Diane Foley and everyone whose loved 
ones have ever been hurt or lost to an act of terrorism,” the company 
also said, adding that the film was a “fictional account that was 
inspired by many different stories and accounts.”

Foley said she had tried to keep an open mind as she went into the 
screening on Tuesday. (She attended on her own, not as a guest of the 
producers.) Ultimately, she said, the film “diminishes the legacy of 
courageous young American journalists,” which Keshavarz insisted she 
never wished to do.

Asked why she didn’t avail herself of the chance to talk to Foley and 
other families, if only for research purposes, Keshavarz said she didn’t 
want the story to have to be true only to one person’s experience.

“[Foley] will always see it as her story,” Keshavarz said. “But it is a 
fictional character going through events that happened in real life.”

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