James Longley was born in Oregon in 1972. He began photographing at the age of 13. James studied film and Russian Language at the University of Rochester and Wesleyan University in the United States, and the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. His student documentary, Portrait of Boy with Dog, about a boy in a Moscow orphanage, was awarded a Student Academy Award in 1994 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
After working as a film projectionist in Washington State, an English language teacher in Siberia, a newspaper copy editor in Moscow, and a web designer in New York City, James traveled to Gaza in 2001 to make his first feature documentary, Gaza Strip, in the early months of the second Palestinian uprising.
In 2002, James traveled to Iraq to begin pre-production work on his second documentary feature, Iraq in Fragments (trailer). The film was completed in 2006 with a production grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded jury prizes for Best Documentary Directing, Best Documentary Editing, and Best Documentary Cinematography - the first time in Sundance history that a documentary received three jury awards. Iraq in Fragments went on to win the top documentary film awards at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, the Cleveland International Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival, the International Documentary Association, the Gotham Awards and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. After national US broadcast of Iraq in Fragments, James was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Documentary Cinematography.
Iraq in Fragments was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Shortly thereafter, James Longley was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2006, James completed his short documentary film, Sari’s Mother, about an Iraqi mother caring for her HIV-positive son on a small farm near the restive city of Mahmudiyah, which was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and went on to win the Golden Gate Award for Best Short Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Sari’s Mother was also nominated for an Academy Award.
James Longley was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009. He is currently researching a new film project in Pakistan.