What a spooky week! Technically this review of City of Ghosts comes only one day after my review of A Ghost Story, and they couldn’t be more different. Well, if one was bad and the other was good it could be different. But they are both fantastic. Oh no, I spoiled the talk about this one being fantastic early!
City of Ghosts puts us in Syria, before the fall of Assad. During the Arab Spring in 2011, protests happened throughout the country and in Raqqa, the capital of Syria. The regime had been dickish in the past, but they tortured a bunch of school aged kids for graffiti that was anti-government, and that set the protests into a bigger momentum. Protectors fought with soldiers, and eventually the government was toppled over. Hooray freedom!
Just kidding, this started a country wide civil war, and it wasn’t long before a militant group referring to themselves as the Isalmic State came into Raqqa and took over. They promised to be nice, but also came in with machine guns and executed those faithful to the past regime. And then they kept killing. They took control over everything, and kept executing those who sucked. But they controlled the media in the area and sent messages about how awesome things were.
But things weren’t awesome. People were living in more poverty, there were food shortages, more and more of their basic freedoms were being taken away. Worse than when Assad was in control. But the militant group had their ranks grow still, because it was the only way to have a good life in the area.
One group of citizens decided that their city was dying and no one in the world knew about it. They started an organization, called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). Their goal was to smuggled out videos, information, pictures, to major media about the realities of their life and to let people know that this group called ISIS was doing a lot of harm and lying about it, putting their own lives on the line in the process.
And now ISIS is on my website 🙁
That’s right, ISIS motherfuckers!
And I found the beginning of this documentary fascinating about the rise of ISIS in the area fascinating. They could have done the whole story on that and it would have been great on its own right. But no, this is by the guy who gave us Cartel Land. He wants to talk about the citizen journalists of RBSS and showcase them as heroes.
We learn about some of the men who founded the website/twitter account, and how they first got the word out. We learned about their passions and lives before the protests begin and how they saw their lives going. We saw them on the run in their own city, secretly recording and getting the message out. We saw them on the run out of their country, into Turkey and Germany, when one of their own was captured and killed with information on them.
And we saw them more importantly, double down on their efforts. Ramp up security for their own operatives still inside the city risking their lives, while worrying about political assassinations across country lines. We saw them feel like they were safe, but still get wrecked by the ISIS Hollywood level media campaign against them in their homes, as more of their family members were found and killed, while also dealing with protesters in their new homes who want the new “dangerous” immigrants out.
What we have here is an extremely powerful documentary that handles a broad subject with grace and humility. This is their story and another way they have to get their message out into the world. It also sheds a message on refugees and helps show just what they are escaping, and how ridiculous these protesters who are anti-refugee look. It should almost be required viewing just to get certain hard ass individuals to maybe open their goddamn eyes.
City of Ghosts tells of a world, a nation, a city, that was stripped of its humanity from outsiders. And the message they want to pass on is to not let these same outsiders destroy the rest of the world’s humanity as well.