James Spione '85 (film), a native of the Hudson Valley region, first achieved national recognition in 1987, when he received a Student Academy AwardÂ® for his Purchase thesis film Prelude, about an adolescent boy's solo journey into the Adirondack Mountains. Jim has now been directing, producing, writing and editing both documentary and fiction films for over twenty years. While his early work earned his reputation for suspenseful dramatic short films, his later work has been marked by a focus on short and feature-length documentaries. In 2011, Jim won the Best Short Documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival for his film, Incident in New Baghdad.
During the 1990s, Jim wrote and directed several other notable shorts, including Garden (1994), an eerie period drama (starring Melissa Leo, who also attended Purchase) 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. Jim next wrote and directed The Playroom (1996), 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." He also produced and co-edited John G. Young's ('85 film) first feature Parallel Sons, which premiered at Sundance in the Dramatic Competition and was later distributed by Strand Releasing.
During the 2000s, Jim 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 independent movie houses from the Berkshires to the Midwest. In 2008, he 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. Jim released the DVD version of the movie through his own production and distribution company, Morninglight Films. The film is part of a planned trilogy on the region, and Jim is currently in production on the second film in the series.
His most recent documentary, Incident in New Baghdad is a first-person account of the July 12, 2007 airstrike that killed two Reuters journalists, along with about a dozen other men, in a suburb of Baghdad during one of the most violent and chaotic periods of the Iraq War. The attack achieved worldwide notoriety in April of 2010 when the WikiLeaks website released a video recording of the incident filmed from the cockpit of one of the helicopters. In recognizing Jim's movie, the Tribeca jury noted that the film "bravely explores the residual effects of experiencing trauma in war in a truthful and fearless manner." Incident in New Baghdad is scheduled for several more film festival screenings this summer, including the Palm Springs Shortfest and the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
One fellow Purchase alum has figured prominently in Jim's offscreen life as well. In 1998, he married Pamela Stewart ('85 acting), who also appeared in The Playroom. They live in Westchester County with their sons Samuel and Galileo.