James Becket

James Becket is a writer and filmmaker who currently uses documentary film to address issues of social justice and the environment.[1] [2] Previously he wrote, directed, and produced independent feature films and, as a journalist and human-rights lawyer, he reported on and engaged with important political events and social problems in Europe[3] and Latin America.[4]

James Becket
BornOctober 5, 1936
New York City, N.Y.
Alma materWilliams College, Harvard Law School
OccupationWriter, Filmmaker
Spouse(s)Maria Hary Becket, Camilla Denton
ChildrenSandra, Daphne, Lydia


B.A. Williams College (Highest Honors); J.D. Harvard Law School; Instituto de Economia, University of Chile (Fulbright Scholar), Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland.



In the 1960s Becket began writing as a foreign correspondent from Europe,[5] Latin America and Africa.[6] His reports and articles appeared amongst others in The New Republic, The Nation, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Journal de Geneve etc. He also contributed to scholarly journals on issues of land reform,[7] economic development,[8] and international human rights law.[9]

Human Rights Lawyer and the Greek Dictatorship

In April 1967 a junta of Greek Colonels seized power in Greece. Becket and his Greek wife, Maria Becket became active in the resistance and the international movement to restore democracy in Greece.[10] Amnesty International sent Becket and barrister Anthony Marreco to Athens to investigate alleged human rights violations. Their Report[11] which emphasized the regime’s use of torture based on first hand testimony was widely reported in global media. Three Scandinavian countries brought the Greek Case before the European Commission of Human Rights[12] Becket wrote Barbarism in Greece documenting torture and continued writing articles,[13] appearing on television such as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in the conflict with the regime over public opinion. When the European Commission was to hold hearings in Strasbourg, the Beckets organized the escapes of torture victims from Greece who gave first hand testimony to the Commission.[14] Becket also appeared as a witness.[15] The violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting torture proved to be a key issue in the Commission’s decision to condemn the dictatorship leading to its exit from the Council of Europe.[16] Becket was declared persona non grata by the Greek regime.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

From 1974 to 1981 Becket served as UNHCR’s Director of Public Information during a period “characterized by a considerable increase in the scale and scope of the work of UNHCR.”[17] He acted as the spokesperson for the organization and produced news stories and documentaries[18] on the major refugee stories of the day including the Vietnamese boat people, Cambodian refugees fleeing genocide, African refugees fleeing wars and apartheid.


In 1981 Becket moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film career. His first film was in 1971 in Chile producing the political film Que Hacer[19] with a group of radical Chileans and Americans during the Salvador Allende election. The film put its actors in real life election situations including speaking with Allende in character. The film received mixed reviews[20] and was in numerous film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival.[21] The 1973 coup overthrowing Allende sent the Chileans who worked on the film into exile or to their death. Working with UNHCR, he made a number of documentaries on refugees, including one on Chilean refugees. His writing of screenplays enabled him to expand into directing and producing and his international experience led him to direct movies with progressive political content in Chile (Southern Cross), Thailand (Natural Causes), Nicaragua, Sudan, and Jordan (Sanctuary).

In television, he directed two After School Specials dealing with such themes as child sexual abuse.[22] He also wrote episodes for Miami Vice[23] and Crime Story.[24] In 1999 he created Becket Films and began producing documentary films on health and ecology. In the health field Becket produced films on childhood epilepsy[25] (his young daughter suffered from epilepsy) and stroke recovery.[26] He produced a series of eight films on ship-borne symposia that brought together religious leaders and scientists, long estranged, to find common ground on the issue of the environment. Each symposium, under the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, ‘The Green Patriarch’, traveled seven bodies of water in ecological jeopardy ranging from the Amazon to the Arctic to the Adriatic.[27] Becket’s most recent efforts include Sons of Africa (2014) where the sons of two bitter enemies scale Kilimanjaro on a Peace Climb and The Seeds of Vandana Shiva (2020) recounting the life story of the Indian eco-activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Feature Films


  • Je Suis un Refugie (1979) Writer/Director, UNHCR, First Prize Cork Film Festival
  • Sanctuary,(1982) Writer/Director, PBS, Cindy Awards, Best in Festival awards
  • Crime Story (1988) Writer, Going Home 27 February 1988
  • Miami Vice (1988) Writer, Heart of Night 31 August 1988
  • Big Boys Don’t Cry (1992) Director, CBS Schoolbreak Special, Churchill Films, Humanitas Award
  • Fast Forward (1994) Director, ABC Afterschool Special, Wild Films, Humanitas Award
  • Guns in School (1993) Director, PSA, George Foster Peabody Award.


Becket has written thirty screenplays of which ten have been produced.


  • The Aegean: The Apocalypse, (1995) Producer/Director, RSE.
  • The Adriatic: A Sea at Risk, A Unity of Purpose (1998), Producer/Director, RSE.
  • El Misterio del Capital de los Indigenas Amazonicas, (2002), ILD,
  • The Baltic: A Sea in Peril, (2003) Producer/Director, RSE.
  • The Amazon: The End of Infinity (2004),Producer/Director, RSE.
  • Childhood Epilepsy ‘What you need to know’. (2005)
  • Diagnosis Epilepsy: Now what? (2006) Winner 2007 Telly Award
  • The Arctic: The Consequences of Human Folly, (2006), Producer/Director, RSE.
  • The Green Patriarch, (2008) Producer/Director, RSE, 2008
  • Stroke Recovery: Taking Back Our Lives, (2010) Producer/Director, Becket Films.
  • The Mississippi: At The Tipping Point (2011) Producer/Director, RSE, 2011
  • Sons of Africa,(2014) Producer/Director, Journeyman Pictures. Winner Best Doc, Seattle Independent Film Festival, Borrego Springs Festival
  • The Seeds of Vandana Shiva (2020), Producer/Director with Camilla Denton, Becket Films


  • (1969) Barbarism in Greece Walker and Company LCCN 73-109187(also translated and published in Swedish, Italian, Greek, and Turkish)
  • (1973) (with Elise Smith) First Amnesty International Report on Torture, Duckworth’s,
  • (1998) Inca Gold Bantam ISBN 978-1-933390-20-8
  • (1992) Murder on the Tour de France Bantam ISBN 0-553-29443-1

Selected Articles

(14 May1962) "Report from a Troubled Colony” The New Republic

(16 May1964) "Autogestion: Algeria’s Socialist Experiment" The Economic Weekly,

(23 May 1964) “Algeria’s War Orphans” Christian Science Monitor

(19 July1966) “Suez, dix ans apres, Les consequences de la nationalisation" Journal de Geneve

(29 December 1967) “Chile’s Mini-Revolution” Commonweal

(27 May 1968) “Torture in Democracy’s Homeland” Christianity and Crisis

(March 1968) “The Real Latin America (photographic essay)” Renewal

( March, 1968) “How I Became National Champion: Letter from Bolivia” Skiing

(6 January1969) “Greek Junta on Trial” The Nation

April 1970 pp 44–49) “Inquisition Greek style” Ramparts Magazine

(4 August 1972) "Torture as an Institution" New York Times

(March 1978) "The Subjective Camera as Leading Character" American Cinematographer

Notes and references

  1. Producer Que Hacer? 1972 (film about election Salvador Allende, Chile, 1970)
  2. Director The Seeds of Vandana Shiva (2020)
  3. Greek Junta "James Becket, an American attorney and author of Barbarism in Greece, was sent to Greece by Amnesty International."
  4. Becket, James (29 December 1967). ""Revolution in Chile"". The New Republic.
  5. Becket, James (6 January 1969). "Greek Junta on Trial". The Nation.
  6. Becket, James (23 May 1964). ""Algeria's War Orphans"". Christian Science Monitor.
  7. Becket, James (April 1963). ""Land Reform in Chile"". Journal of Inter-American Studies: 177–211. doi:10.2307/164809. JSTOR 164809.
  8. Becket, James. "The World Economyː Short of Change". Risk. II.
  9. Becket, James (August 1970). ""the Greek Case before the European Commission of Human Rights"". Human Rights. I (1).
  10. Liljegren, Henrik (2006). From Tallinn to Turkey, As a Swede and Diplomat. Trimbo. p. 71. An important and often crucial role in mobilizing European opinion against the Greek junta and exposing its human rights abuses was played, both openly and behind the scenes, by Maria Becket, a Greek citizen and James Becket, an American. Seldom has the engagement of two private individuals had such an influence on a major issue of European democracy and human rights. The contribution of this couple, who lived at the time in Geneva, to the efforts of the Nordic countries to convince the Council of Europe about the human rights violations of the junta, tipped the scale from failure to success.
  11. Report by Amnesty International Situation in Greece 27 January 1968
  12. European Human Rights Commission (1969) The Greek Caseː Report of the Sub-Commission Vol. I part 1
  13. for exampleː Becket, James (April 1970). "Inquisition Greek Style". Ramparts Magazine: 44–49.
  14. Korovesis, Pericles (1970). The Method - A personal Account. Allison and Busby.
  15. European Human Rights Commission (1969) The Greek Caseː Report of the Sub-Commission Vol. II Part 1
  16. "Council of Europe Scores Greece Rules". New York Times. 27 September 1968.
  17. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees A/3112, )1 January 1976
  18. for example for Visnews
  19. "Que Hacer on Bill with Allende". New York Times. 29 September 1973.
  20. "Que Hacer?". Le Monde. 24 October 1972.
  21. "Un film politique a la quinzaine des realisateurs". Nice-Matin. 8 May 1972.
  22. Directorː Big Boys Don't Cry CBS Schoolbreak Special, Churchill Films
  23. Writerː Heat of the Night 31 August 1988
  24. Writerː Going Home 27 February 1988
  25. Directorː Diagnosis Epilepsy now What? (2008) Becket Films
  26. Directorː Stroke Recoveryː Taking Back Our Lives (2010) Becket Films
  27. see, religion, science and environment