Twice nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary, James is best known for his verite work in areas of conflict. His first feature film, GAZA STRIP, documents the lives of Palestinians during the second Intifada in 2001. A.O Scott of the New York Times said of the film "The absence of voice-over narration and talking-head interviews gives his portrait of daily life under duress a riveting immediacy."
James began traveling to Iraq in 2002 and spent more than two years in production there following the US overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. Two documentary films resulted: IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS and SARI'S MOTHER. Both were nominated for Academy Awards, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS also won the top prizes at such prestigious film festivals as Sundance, Chicago, and Full Frame, and Human Rights Watch, NY.
Writing in The Village Voice, Nathan Lee called SARI'S MOTHER "the masterpiece of the Human Rights Watch festival ... an unforced triumph of concision, perception, and intuition." Critics also heaped praise on IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS; Kenneth Turan of the LA Times wrote of the film: "this one demands to be seen ... mesmerizes with its insight and, rarer still, its beauty." Rob Nelson wrote in the Village Voice "... if Longley's astonishing feat of poetic agitation has a precedent in the entire history of documentary, I'm not aware of it." The Guardian newspaper called it "astonishing, both in its beauty and its breadth." and Salon.com called it "a documentary masterpiece."
Since 2007 James has spent over 15 months living and working in Iran, where he has been recording life at a village school in the mountainous north, and making images of daily life in such locations as Tehran, Tabriz, Yazd, the Alamut Valley.
James Longley, a resident of Seattle, Washington, studied Film and Russian Language at Wesleyan University and the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. He joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007.