User Reviews (7)

  • Paul Allaer20 August 2017
    9/10
    Journalistic heroism redefined
    "City of Ghosts" (2017 release; 93 min.) is a documentary about the city of Raqqa under the dictatorship of ISIS, and a group of citizen journalists determined to expose the atrocities to the world. As the movie opens, we see one of the citizen journalists of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) getting ready to accept the 2015 CPJ International Press Freedom Award in New York. We then go back in time, to the Arab Spring events, when Raqqa ran the Assad regime out of town, only to then get overrun by ISIS. A small group of citizen journalists puts clandestine footage on the internet, showing what ISIS really is doing. Fearing for their lives, some of them flee Raqqa (to Turkey and Germany), "and that's when the real war between us and ISI began", says one of them. At this point we're 15 min. into the documentary.

    Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from producer-writer-director Matthew Heineman, whose previous documentary, the outstanding "Cartel Land" got an Oscar nomination (and should've won, but that's just me). As soon as I saw his name associated with this, I knew we would be in for one riveting film. And I was right. Filmed mostly in 2014-15, it gives a chilling account of what the ISIS regime truly is like. Beware: there is gruesome and shocking footage (much of which was shown blurred in US mainstream media) so this is not for the faint of heart. But it is so important that the world becomes better aware what really is going on there. The real heroes of this film are of course the RBSS journalists who are secretly filming the events in Raqqa and then transmit the footage to the RBSS journalists in Turkey and Germany. Each and every one of them somehow needs to deal with living each day knowing that ISIS would like to do nothing better than to kill every single one of them. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must feel like.

    "City of Ghosts" premiered to universal critical acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival. No idea why it's taken so long for this to get released in theaters, but the film finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Sunday early afternoon screening where I saw this at turned out to be a private screening. I literally was the only person there, sad to say. I happen to love a good documentary, and when it is about a topic as important as this one, that only makes it better. If you have any interest in understanding what is going on in Raqqa, Syria, by all means make sure to catch this movie, be it in the theater, on VD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
  • David Ferguson5 July 2017
    8/10
    courage
    Greetings again from the darkness. Oscar nominated director Matthew Heineman delivered the stunning documentary Cartel Land in 2015, and here he once again proves his expertise as the messenger of important (and dangerous) stories that need to be told.

    The film begins in the Syrian city of Ragga in 2012, and we see the beginning of the revolution against the Assad regime. The sayings "Death is Death" and "Danger has a special taste" come into play, and by the end of the film, there is a clarity that is devastating.

    The courageous and dedicated Citizen Journalists are divided into two groups: the internal who risk their lives in Ragga uploading news stories and videos of ISIS actions and, the external who are based in Turkey and Germany and post regularly to social media outlets. Both groups live vagabond lives – always on the move in an effort to avoid capture. Their combined efforts and risk taking allow the real story to be told from their home city mostly cut-off from the outside world – as evidenced by the satellite graveyard.

    Some quite graphic and violent video clips are used to bring poignancy and meaning to the words spoken by the brave individuals (rebels in the best sense) being interviewed. The clips are also in contrast to the quietly dignified, yet urgent approach they take in reporting developments.

    RBSS (Ragga is Being Silently Slaughtered) is the movement spreading the truth about ISIS atrocities – including public beheadings, shootings, and bombings. It's a terrifying story, never more so than during the professionally produced recruiting ISIS videos featuring young children. These courageous folks have had friends, family and neighbors slaughtered which inspires them to continue fighting the guns and bombs with the power of words. It's breathtaking.
  • Rob Ervin (Obi_Bamm_Karaoke)1 August 2017
    10/10
    One word: POWERFUL.
    There are many that feel that this generation's access to data has in some way watered down the power of media. In a world where everything is RIGHT NOW, traditional media like print is dying on the vine. While this may be true of things like newspapers and magazines, the media is finally becoming more savvy and not only embracing a digital age that they found to be beneath them and more "bush league," they are also finding that this new age gives more opportunity to get to stories that they could not because of things like notoriety and old school methods. In "Cartel Land" director Matthew Heineman's new film "City of Ghosts," this subject is given a very up close and personal examination in a setting that is jarring, frightening, and heartbreaking.

    In the city of Raqqa in Iraq just a few years ago, the Assad regime fell to its rebellion, and the people who lived there felt like a new age was upon them. Unfortunately, that new age came in the form of ISIS, whose strong arm tactics and extremist beliefs caused oppression, violence, and murder within its city walls. A group of oppositionists both in and out of the city began a group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), and used the power of social media and the Internet to take the story of their city public. This would resort in their plight being broadcast worldwide through large media outlets, but the cost would be steep for them by way of exile, assassinations, and being constantly on the run from an organization that wants each and every one of them dead, even to the point of facing ridicule from the countries that they run to as it pertains not to just them but any kind of immigration from other countries, showing the effects of some of the same issues that we currently face in ours.

    As I was watching "City of Ghosts," there was only one word that kept running through my mind, and that word is simply: powerful. Heineman pulls no punches with this film, showing the pain and suffering of the people in Raqqa and how it effects the leaders of RBSS. The balance that his subjects display of both the immense courage it takes to lead a movement like this as well as the human sides of themselves dealing with loss of family, friends, and even their freedom on a certain level is nothing short of brilliant. I was glued to the screen the entire time and while there are no twists or turns per se, this story kept me guessing all the way through as ISIS tries at every turn to suppress their message from destroying all satellite dishes in an effort to shut down their internet access in the city to threatening (and even killing in some cases) those close to them. There is also a very interesting look at ISIS and how they use their own methods of communication to bring people into their ranks that is honest (and I know this sounds odd, but roll with me here) unbiased. What I mean there is that the filmmakers simply show the actual footage that the group has published without doctoring it up, and trust me when I say this: it totally speaks for itself.

    I was consistently fascinated by the resilience of RBSS' people inside the city to get the footage that they did to show the world the pain and suffering that those who stand against their oppressors go through, to the point of long lines of children who are just trying to get a bucket filled with soup to feed them and their families. I cannot imagine the constant fear that they have to overcome to tell their stories by putting their lives in danger every day. "City of Ghosts" is one of those films that although it will get a limited run due to the fact that documentaries don't tend to get the widespread theatrical love that they deserve in most cases, it demands the attention and respect that it deserves. Whether caught theatrically, via Blu-Ray or DVD, or through streaming, this is a film that is worth the time to watch and be discussed on any scale if for no other reason than the awareness that it needs to foster of not only the dangers of extremism but also the courage it takes to stand for what you believe in and the message that every group of people, no matter how you look at it, has a dark side and a light side, and we all need to see that for what it is. Celebrate the good, rebuke the bad, and try to get through all of it as one group of people embracing our diversity and doing our best to understand our differences.
  • jdesando30 August 2017
    You want real reality? Watch these citizen journalists sacrifice all.
    Having won a national award for journalism, I was feeling really pumped about me until I saw the journalists in City of Ghosts. Here are heroes who leave me breathless in awe of their courage fighting Isis in its home, Raqqa. A formerly docile town, it changed with the emergence of ISIS tanks in 2014 after the remarkable Arab Spring of 2012.

    The citizen journalists, RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently), begin fighting in earnest when they realize ISIS has taken control because of the vacuum of power after that Spring. This doc is almost exclusively a chronicle of their struggle to remain viable after ISIS zeroed in on them and began torturing and beheading relatives and friends.

    So the heroism is much more personal than fighting ISIS; it is about good people combating an implacable foe at the expense of their families and themselves. When the doc shows a fighter watching a video of his father being assassinated and when at the end of the film a fighter shakes in guilt and fear over having survived and his friends didn't because he escaped from Raqqa, the audience is witnessing a reality show like no other our poor commercial fluff gives us in that name.

    The depressing element of this is how successful ISIS has been because of the Hollywood production type elements in these gruesome and seductive promos. Assassinations are edited with the expertise of your garden-variety super-hero blockbuster.

    City of Ghosts features fighters who are ghosts of their former happy lives, but they are heroes the likes of which we have long forgotten.
  • eyal philippsborn22 July 2017
    10/10
    Chilling reminder that evil still thrives in 2017.
    For the briefest of moments, we were certain that the combination of pure evil and military might died in a German bunker at 1945. there are many examples in the 21st century to provide us with clear cut proof that it hasn't. we don't need City of ghosts to be reminded of that but even in the age of full transparency evil can still thrive and probably better than ever before.

    City of ghosts centers around a subservient group of ordinary Syrians who found themselves in unordinary times and became journalists who report against the takeover, cleansing and terrorizing of the Syrian city of Raqaa by ISIS. ISIS entered the city on 2013 in the midst of the civil war that still goes on and immediately called the citizens to cooperate or face the consequences. Those highly unsubtle threats were recorded and were broadcast by a group mention before. This groups is known as RBSS (acronym of : Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently). ISIS who's agenda is to show that the newly conquered city is blooming, finds in RBSS a cardinal threat and starts in brutal campaigns that include murdering activists of the organization (even those who fled Syria) and in many cases, murdering the kin. ISIS is not the first organization to launch brutal and senseless murders but is different than any other militia in both there propensity to flaunt it and in their high production value of their brutal videos.

    RBSS members are normative citizens and none of the people presented in the film, lodging in undisclosed location in Germany has a death wish. The eminent threat is permeating to their personal life and although they never say it aloud, it brings doubts to their commitment. A doubt any human being can understand

    The direction is minimalist and is comprised almost exclusively of the testimony of these activists. No English voice-over is used for background purposes or contemplation. The movie, wisely, leaves the contemplation to the viewer.

    The movie is so engrossing that in the few moments that I wasn't transfixed to the screen, I thought that everyone should watch this beautiful (albeit hard to watch) documentary that proves once again that world indifference can lead to unfathomable horror and even in the day of modern communication, we still can't see what's going on in many parts of the globe. But the most important point the movie makes is that history can repeat itself and with ISIS recruiting adults and children with funding and a fake sense of purpose, a Nazi like threat to humanity is not just material for the history channel, it could very well be reported in the evening news

    10 out of 10 in my FilmOmeter
  • Turfseer19 November 2017
    7/10
    Admirable Syrian citizen-journalists expose ISIS atrocities in their native city
    Warning: Spoilers
    Director Matthew Heineman's new documentary covers a group of Syrian citizen-journalists who, while in exile, and continuing to maintain contacts in their native city of Raqqa ("The City of Ghosts"), disseminated chilling videos of atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, for all the world to see via the internet.

    The group, who call themselves Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (or RBSS), was initially formed to expose the crimes being committed by the Syrian Army and members of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. They switched their focus when ISIS took over their city in 2014.

    The most compelling part of the documentary are the clips that emanate from the occupied city itself, chronicling the depraved actions of ISIS. There are upsetting images of men being executed in the street and corpses mounted in crucifixion tableaux.

    Heineman follows three key members, Aziz, the official spokesman for the group and brothers Hamoud and Mohamad, who are both seen watching a tragic ISIS video showing the execution of their father who was murdered in retaliation for their activities.

    Most of the footage that wasn't shot in Syria covers the three men as they work out of safe houses in both Turkey and Germany. They all come off as heroic as their lives are in constant danger—halfway through the documentary we view the funeral of one of their leaders, who was murdered outside of Syria, while working for RBSS.

    Aside from Aziz receiving an award from the nonprofit group the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City at the beginning of the film, Heineman covers the three activists in their daily activities (these include showing how they go about disseminating information that they are constantly receiving from their undercover operatives in Raqqa).

    Perhaps the film's central weakness is that the director chooses to eschew in depth coverage of the complex history of the Syrian Civil War for a more determined focus on the lives of the activists, who are nothing more than ordinary men, thrust into a life of uncertainty not of their own choosing. While decidedly admirable and heroic, the machinations of Heineman's activists lack conflict and their scenes aren't as gripping as the footage shot in ISIS-held territory.

    City of Ghosts is valuable as it educates the public as to what's been going on in a part of the world that is often shrouded in mystery. There's some powerful stuff here and it's certainly worth your time to investigate.
  • Mark Durfor19 July 2017
    8/10
    Everyone Must See This Film
    Warning: Spoilers
    City of Ghosts is a documentary independent film about ISIS terrorists in Raqqa, Syria, the citizen journalists exposing them, and the power of media used by both. In 2014, ISIS took over Raqqa by force and recruited more soldiers to their cause by distributing CDs. These CDs were poor in quality, looked amateur, and were not producing the results they wanted. A group of 17 correspondents inside Raqqa filmed the actions of ISIS and transmitted their footage to another group of citizen activists outside of Raqqa who would then publish their footage online for the world to see. ISIS caught on and stepped up their game, smartly, viciously, successfully.

    For 40 years, Assad ruled Syria. Slowly, Syrians had enough and rebelled. A group of high school students sprayed graffiti demanding Assad leave and free Syria. The government arrested those students, tortured them and killed them to send a message. Their message failed and a full revolt arose, successfully toppling the regime. Unfortunately for the Syrians, there was not a succession plan in place to set up a government to rule once Assad had been overthrown. A militant group of Muslims named ISIS took Raqqa and they were even worse than Assad.

    ISIS launched a three-pronged attack. First, they attacked by force. Then, they attacked by upping the quality of their videos used to recruit soldiers. They utilized Hollywood style filming techniques and special effects to entice Syrians to join their "paradise". Finally, they found out who was working against them and used intimidation to scare them off. They would publicly execute their family members, they would post pictures of those working against them and their addresses encouraging their soldiers and followers to kill them. They demanded that all satellites be removed and destroyed so they could be in complete control of any media entering or leaving Raqqa. They drove around in vans detecting internet signals and killing violators. But a few brave resisters would not be deterred realizing that either they would successfully share the truth, or they would be killed.

    This is a documentary that uses actual footage of the atrocities being committed by ISIS in Syria. These are not Hollywood actors, there are no special effects or makeup tricks. What you see is real. And that makes this film brutal and painful but necessary to watch. The preview showed that you would be given front-line access to the daily terror to which Syrians are subjected, and that's what the film delivered. It was hard to give this a typical star rating because it's not meant to entertain, it's not meant to thrill and take you to a make believe place. Even movies that are based on actual events are a little easier to handle because they are a step removed. They are recreations of things that happened and the viewer can take some solace knowing it's still a Hollywood movie. I'm not often squeamish at horror films with gore and blood. I'm more curious at how the special effects team pulled it off. With City of Ghosts, what you see is actually happening and cannot be brushed off as a trick. I honestly was not sure what exactly to expect. I didn't know how much would be shown in the movie and in how much detail. The movie is graphic, but restrained. You do see executions. You do see children being brainwashed and threatened with no choice but to follow ISIS. You do see the aftermath of public beheadings. But you are spared some of the brutality as the camera will film the reactions of the Syrians who had to witness their fellow Syrians, their fellow journalists, their friends and families being killed. But their goal is to spread the graphic truth of what is going on and their lives are at stake. I gave City of Ghosts an anticipatory 4 Star prediction. I am going to stand by my 4 Star Rating, even though it breaks my own rating scale because this will not be a movie I'll be owning. I'm giving this a higher rating because I think it is an important film that we all need to see. Not in spite of how uncomfortable it may make us, but rather because of how uncomfortable it should make us. marksmoviemind.blogspot.com