New Susan Sarandon film ‘Viper Room’ criticised by mother of journalist murdered by Isil

The mother of journalist James Foley, who was executed by Isil in 2014, has criticised a new film for profiting from her story.

Diane Foley said the film Viper Club, which stars Susan Sarandon, had taken her life story without consulting her or seeking her consent.

In the film Sarandon plays a nurse called Helen whose son Andy, a freelance journalist in Syria, is abducted by Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (Isil).

She has hit out at the filmmakers for drawing heavily from her life without giving her advance warning or seeking her insight on Sarandon’s character.

Mrs Foley is also a nurse. Her son was abducted by Isil in 2012 and his brutal killing was broadcast around the world in 2014 in a propaganda video.

The film has a number of other similarities with the Foleys’ story, including an unsuccessful attempt to get support from the US government.

Journalist James Foley – here seen in Aleppo, Syria, in July 2012 – was beheaded by IsilCredit:
AP Photo/, Nicole Tung

"She [Sarandon] even physically resembles me," Mrs Foley told the Hollywood Reporter. "What was appalling is that it was my story, almost to the tiniest detail. 

“Nobody has ever reached out to me. It’s very disappointing when people steal tragedies and try to make a profit out of them.”

Mrs Foley said seeing the film, which she travelled to Toronto Film Festival to watch, was a "very upsetting experience".

The filmmakers have denied the story is based solely on Mrs Foley’s experience, insisting it was one of a number of stories they drew on.

Indeed there are some differences between Mrs Foley and Sarandon’s character – Helen is a single mother with a penchant for smoking and swearing.

Mrs Foley is married and refrains from swearing as she is deeply religious.

Maryam Keshavarz, the film’s director, said she admired Mrs Foley and said her son’s story was among the inspirations for the film.

But she suggested that the families Daniel Pearl and Steven Sotloff, two other American journalists kidnapped and killed by terrorists, were also an inspiration.

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"I was using the real markers of what happened to these people but I fictionalised the characters. That’s what we do as writers: we take what we see in the real world and translate it into a world of fiction," she told the Hollywood Reporter.

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She added: "In hindsight, I should have let them know what I was doing and that I’m out there trying to tell stories about issues that matter to all of us. And I hope it’s not too late for that."

YouTube, which is releasing the film through its subscription service next year, has supported the director and stated the film is not based specifically on Mrs Foley’s story.

"We have the deepest sympathy for Diane Foley and everyone whose loved ones have ever been hurt or lost to an act of terrorism," YouTube told the website.

"The film, Viper Club, is a fictional account that was inspired by different stories and accounts and highlights the important and brave work that journalists undertake in perilous regions around the world."

Mrs Foley revealed that she bumped into Sarandon at the airport after attending the film screening in Toronto and pressed her on the similarities with her own life.

"She knew nothing about it, nothing," she said. "She was surprised. She was clueless. She told me she’s going to watch the documentary and try to talk to Google."

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