VOD film review: City of Ghosts
Ivan Radford | On 31, Oct 2017
Director: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Hamoud, Hussam, Mohamad
Watch City of Ghosts online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
What is life like under ISIS? That’s the kind of question that has been tackled in Channel 4’s drama, The State, and 2014 Oscar nominee Timbuktu. But nothing can quite capture the reality like footage actually shot in Syria – and for years, a group of activitists have been filming exactly that and releasing it online.
In an age of mass media consumption, the Internet can bring a surprising power to a group, a cause or a message – something that came vividly to life during the Arab Spring. It’s a fact that ISIS are also keenly aware of, as they use their own media to recruit and attract people to their state – and, just as fiercely, try to shut down the activist movement from broadcasting their videos. Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman’s documentary taps right into that potency, shining an inspiring light on the passionate battle of ideas that is being fought on the ground by normal people with a camera.
To see that light, though, you have to look through a haunting darkness, and City of Ghosts doesn’t flinch in its portrayal of the grim brutality of ISIS’ rule: Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is the name of the activist group and their material makes it clear just how true that statement is without the need for added commentary or embellishment. Since ISIS took over Raqqa and named it their capital, beheadings and executions have become commonplace, putting every member of RBSS in a nasty danger; while there is a digital war going on, the alternative approach is a looming, harrowing threat.
Earlier this month, Raqqa was evacuated by ISIS, as the Arab and Kurish milita finally succeeded drove the extremists out of the city. What has been left behind is largely ruins, with many residents displaced from their former home. Whether the city can recover is a question that remains unanswered, but one thing is certain: it is impossible to overstate the role that the citizen journalists at Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently have played in history. As they collect an award near the start of the film for their important work, one photographer asks them to smile more. You can understand why they don’t. Playing out like a harrowing thriller, this is an incredibly powerful tribute to courage in the face of evil.
City of Ghosts is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.