City of Ghosts

A documentary that follows the efforts of “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a handful of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014. With deeply personal access, this is the story of a brave group of citizen journalists as they face the realities of life undercover, on the run, and in exile, risking their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.

City of Ghosts’ is a powerful documentary about a group of civilian activists who have been covertly covering the events in Raqqa, Syria, after their city was taken over by ISIS in 2014. That group is known as ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ and the documentary depicts their efforts to cut through the ISIS propaganda and bring the true story of what is happening in Raqqa to the world. It’s a troubling watch at times and features footage of executions, so it does come with a warning, but this is a vital movie about the importance of journalism and the bravery of the civilians who risked their lives to inform the world.

The film spends some of its time attempting to tell the story of Syria and the various warring factions that led to the toppling of Assad and the subsequent vacuum that led to the arrival of ISIS, but it also recognises that it is a complex tale and no 90 minute documentary will do justice to the tragedy of the past five years and counting. It’s more in tune to the story of RiBSS and how ordinary civilians felt duty bound to tell the story of what was happening in their home city, and it explores the techniques used to covertly film ISIS and get the film and images out of the country to members of the group operating out of Turkey and Germany. Many members of the group wound up dead for their efforts, underlining the danger and isolation involved in this work, but it makes a compelling case for the importance of it. Without the likes of RiBSS, the true story of Raqqa may yet be unknown, with only ISIS propaganda videos available to paint a flawed picture of the broken society they ruled over.

Since this documentary was made, ISIS have been forced out of Raqqa and much of the rest of Syria, ostensibly by the efforts of various international and local forces, but the impact of journalists cannot be underestimated. In an environment unimaginable to those of us in the western world, these brave men and women sacrificed everything for their cause, and ‘City of Ghosts’ is an insightful and potent tribute to their efforts.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Matthew Heineman


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