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James Michael Spione is an American director, producer, writer and editor of both documentary and fiction films. Early on in his career, he developed a reputation for suspenseful dramatic shorts; his later career, however, has been marked by a new focus on short and feature-length documentaries for both theatrical release and public television broadcast.1,2 His most recent film, Incident in New Baghdad, was nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category of the 84th Academy Awards.26
Life and career
A native of the Hudson Valley region of New York State, Spione graduated with Honors in 1985 from the Film Directing program at the State University of New York at Purchase.3 He first achieved national recognition in 1987, when he received a Student Academy Award for his dramatic thesis film Prelude, about an adolescent boy's solo journey into the Adirondack Mountains.4
During the 1990s, Spione wrote and directed several other notable dramatic shorts, including Garden (1994), which starred fellow SUNY alumni Melissa Leo (2010 Best Supporting Actress winner for The Fighter) and Matt Malloy (Six Feet Under (TV series)). An eerie period drama about a disturbed father's homecoming, Garden was featured in the Shorts Program at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and played at numerous other national and international film festivals.5
Spione next wrote and directed The Playroom (1996), starring Pamela Holden Stewart (The Reception (film)), which was shown at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York City as part of the "Independents Night" series and broadcast on the national cable program "Reel Street."6 Spione also produced and co-edited John G. Young's first feature, Parallel Sons, which premiered at Sundance in the Dramatic Competition and was later distributed by Strand Releasing.7
During the 2000s, Spione began to produce and direct nonfiction films. In 2005, he made American Farm, a feature-length documentary that focused on the predicament of his family's 5th-generation dairy farm in central New York State. The film premiered at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and went on to play theatres from the Berkshires to the Midwest.8 Spione often toured with the movie and would hold frequent Q&A sessions at each regional premiere to engage the audience directly in discussions about the state of family farming in America.9,10
In 2008, Spione collaborated with The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo, Virginia on a historical documentary, Our Island Home, about the last surviving residents of a vanished settlement on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our Island Home premiered at the Barrier Islands Center and was subsequently broadcast by WHRO-TV in Norfolk, Virginia.11 Like American Farm, Spione released the DVD version of the movie through his own production and distribution company, Morninglight Films.
Slated for release in 2010 is Inauguration, a verite documentary concerning the events on the streets of Washington, D.C. leading up to the swearing-in of Barack Obama.12
Spione's most recent film is the Oscar-nominated Incident in New Baghdad, a first-person account of the infamous July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike that killed two Reuters journalists, along with about a dozen other mostly unarmed individuals, in a suburb of Baghdad during one of the most violent and chaotic periods of the Iraq War.1 The film premiered theatrically at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it won the prize for Best Short Documentary.23
The director is currently working in collaboration with Naked Edge Films on a new feature documentary called Silenced, about the Obama Administration's crackdown on U.S. national security whistleblowers including Thomas Andrews Drake and John Kiriakou.27
Concurrent with his film directing career, Spione often worked as a film and video editor on independent dramatic and documentary features (Darien Sills-Evans' X-Patriots, Spencer Mandell and Raymond Pagnucco's God's Open Hand)13,14, as well as numerous award-winning videos for national educational producer Human Relations Media.15, 16
Praise and criticism
Among his short works, Garden received high praise from critics during the movie's film festival tour. Lawrence Toppman wrote in the Charlotte Observer that "James Spione creates more tension in 25 minutes than most writer-directors manage over two hours," and the film was Toppman's most recommended of the 1994 Charlotte Film Festival.17 Critic Greg Stacy of the Orange County Weekly called Garden a "real gem" with "the crushing inevitability of a Flannery O'Connor story."18 Reaction to Spione's later documentary work, however, has been somewhat more mixed. While American Farm was generally well received in newspapers such as the Wisconsin State Journal and the Burlington Free Press, at least one review in The Onion A.V. Club was quite critical.19,20,21 Nonetheless, the DVD version of the movie was selected by Video Librarian magazine as one of the Best Documentaries of 2008.22 More recently, Incident in New Baghdad was described by critics as "truly not worth missing" and "one powerful and disturbing film."24,25
Incident in New Baghdad (2010)
Our Island Home (2008)
American Farm (2005)
The Playroom (1996)
1. "James Spione". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 20 Oct 2010.
2. "Our Island Home/Biographies". Morninglight Films. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
3. Lanzetta, Danny (14 Apr 2005), "An ideal 'Farm'", Pulse Magazine (Poughkeepsie, NY): 25
4. "Student Academy Award Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
5. "Garden". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
6. "American Farm/The Filmmakers". Morninglight Films. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
7. "Parallel Sons". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
8. "Our Island Home/Biographies". Morninglight Films. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
9. Hallenbeck, Brent (4 December 2007), "Focus on Farms' Families", Burlington Free Press (Vermont)
10. "Upstate Films/Guest Speakers". Upstate Films. Retrieved 1 Feb 2010.
11. "Excerpts from "Our Island Home"". The Barrier Islands Center. Retrieved 12 Feb 2010.
12. "Inauguration: Spirit of the Crowd". Morninglight Films. Retrieved 16 Feb 2010.
13. "God's Open Hand trailer". Ghost Studios. Retrieved 20 Feb 2010.
14. "X-Patriots". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 Feb 2010.
15. "Drugged Driving: The Road to Disaster". Human Relations Media. Retrieved 15 Feb 2010.
16. "Amazing Kids of Character". Human Relations Media. Retrieved 15 Feb 2010.
17. Toppman, Lawrence (May 13, 1994). "Critic's picks of films, videos to see at festival". Charlotte Observer, p. 2F.
18. Stacy, Greg (August 16–22, 1996). "Short Cuts". OC Weekly, p. 23.
19. Thomas, Rob (6 October 2005), ""American Farm" Skips the Country Cliches", Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)
20. Hallenbeck, Brent (4 December 2007), "Focus on Farms' Families", Burlington Free Press (Vermont)
21. Murray, Noel (5 October 2005), "American Farm", The Onion/A.V. Club (Madison WI)
22. "Video Librarian 2008 Best Documentaries". Video Librarian. Retrieved 1 Mar 2010.
23. "Awards_Announced_2011_Tribeca_Film_Festival". Tribeca Film Festival. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
24. "A Guide to the Tribeca_Film_Festival's Best Short Films". ArtInfo. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
25. "Surveying the Docs at Tribeca". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
26. "Nominees for the 84th Acacemy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
27. "Silenced". Morninglight Films. Retrieved 28 Oct 2013.