[Marxism] Mother of slain journalist James Foley says filmmaker took their story
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
“This sounds like my son’s story,” she told herself. “This sounds like
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
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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