James Foley, #NHFF, E-TEAM, and the Power of Storytelling

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

As the publicist for the New Hampshire Film Festival, the festival weekend tends to be a complete whirlwind for me.This was my second year in this role for the festival, since joining Vital, the festival’s official marketing partner, in August of 2013. With 123 films screening this year, and over 100 last year, there are so many great stories to tell leading up to and throughout the weekend.

But this isn’t just an event about eating popcorn and watching movies. As NHFF Executive Director Nicole Gregg points out, there is something about the festival that makes the film experience so much more than pulling up a movie on Netflix. More than just bringing great independent film to the Portsmouth audience, NHFF also brings them the storytellers—and the story behind the telling.

No other film demonstrated the power of storytelling more powerfully than E-TEAM, which brought with it some very special storytellers indeed. I wrote this press release to amplify that story:

Foley Parents Accept Special Award at E-TEAM Screening at NH Film Festival

John & Diane Foley urge support for those brave enough to give voices to the suffering

October 19, 2014, Portsmouth, NH — Following the New Hampshire Film Festival’s screening of the documentary E-TEAM at the Music Hall Sunday morning, Academy Award-winning director Ross Kaufmann took the stage to honor the legacy of James Foley, who contributed cinematography to the film.

Before presenting James Foley’s parents with the special award, Kaufmann, who co-drected E-TEAM with Katy Chevigny, shared his own experience of meeting James, remembering his huge smile and big hugs. Kaufmann said that when his own crew became unavailable to shoot footage in Libya in 2011, they reached out to Foley, who shot the scenes in Libya that are used in the film.

Kaufmann also read a statement from Peter Bouckaert, one of the members of Human Rights Watch that the documentary follows, that Bouckaert requested be read at the presentation:

“Jim was one of the most caring and humble people I ever worked with in nearly two decades covering the war, and a true professional. He was as dear as a brother to me, and I cherish all the beautiful moments we had together. I hope all of you will join in remembering him for his passion and his humanity, and not the brutality of what was done to him.”

E-TEAM won the Cinematography Award at Sundance Film Festival, and at the filmmaking team’s request, Sundance created a special cinematography award to honor Foley as an additional cinematographer on the film. Kauffman, on behalf of Chevigny and the filmmaking team, presented the award to John and Diane Foley, who took the Music Hall stage as the entire crowd rose to applaud, and stayed on their feet to hear their remarks. [Photo attached]

“Jim’s laughing because he knows how much I like to speak,” said John Foley, James Foley’s father. He went on to express how very important it is that we support those that are brave enough to do the work that his son ultimately gave his life for.

The Foleys are establishing the James W. Foley Legacy Fund, taking its mission from the things their son most believed in: building a resource center for families of American hostages and fostering a global dialog on governmental policies in hostage crises; supporting American journalists reporting from conflict zones; and promoting quality educational opportunities for urban youth.

After the tribute, John Foley and Ross Kaufmann addressed the press at the festival headquarters at Discover Portsmouth. Foley said that one of the things that E-TEAM was very successful at was showing the tangible, real impact that these human rights workers are having in the places they work. When one of the film’s subjects, Anna Neistat, is being questioned at a press conference in Russia, she is able to stand up to accusations of bias because she had such overwhelming and clearly documented research of the crimes she was investigating. Human Rights Watch investigations helped stop the use of a particularly deadly chemical that was being used as a weapon against civilians, a tangible victory that Foley said is more validation of what these brave people are doing in exposing and documenting these violations.

When describing his son’s work with children as a teacher with Teach for America, he said that James always had a passion for making a difference in the lives of kids. A former student of James said, “If that man that killed Mr. Foley had had Mr. Foley in his life, he never would have killed him.” Foley hopes that his son’s legacy will inspire others to carry on in this important work.

This event was far and away the most powerful part of the festival, to me, and, I suspect, to many others who took their feet for this tribute.

Movies inspire. Some, when the credits roll, cause us to make resolutions or inspire us to make a change. E-TEAM is certainly one of those movies.

But the story behind it, the story of a man whose face never appears in the film, is what I found most inspiring—people so committed to giving a voice to the voiceless that they take themselves as the tellers out of the story to make sure you see the story itself. These stories bring about real change, and inspire action. And when others try to silence the tellers, they only amplify the story and strengthen the commitment of others to join in the telling.

Hearing John Foley talk about the legacy of his son and the other brave storytellers fighting for the defenseless inspired me to remain committed to telling my own story and sharing the stories of others. It reminded me that even when your part is publicizing the stories of others, it is still incredibly important. We all have stories to tell; sometimes, those stories save lives.