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  • Writer's pictureRob Ervin

Rob Reviews "City Of Ghosts"

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.

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