"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.