City of Ghosts(2017) Review

Director : Matthew Heineman
Language : Arabic
Genre : Documentary

The Camera is Mightier Than The Sword in Raqqa!

Someone has rightly said that everything in front of the camera is transparent. When the Nazis under Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, there were 4700 newspapers being published in Germany, of which only 3% were actually being controlled by them. By 1944, only half of all the publishing houses were privatized. Despite this, the total circulation of all these newspapers were only 4.4 million, while the circulation of the remaining Nazi-controlled newspapers was at a staggeringly high 21 million. While 'Aryanization' of the German media was done so as to fulfill the ideologies of the Nazi party, no one at the time could expose the vicious lies being spread by the media outlets. The obvious reason for this was that the camera was still to become a common commodity that could be afforded by everyone. Cut to 2014, and nearly everyone had a smartphone, and with that, a camera. And if one were to simply analyze the activities of the 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently(RBSS)' group, then this same camera has turned into an incredible weapon, capable of fighting the bloody sword held by what has insidiously become a global threat today, (in)famous by the name of ISIS

This juxtaposition is pretty obvious when you actually pay attention and notice how Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman includes the camera as an element in every scene of this brutally captivating documentary of a rebel Syrian media activist group, who famously exposed the lies and bloodshed carried out by the ISIS, who not many will know were initially supported by the citizens as a means to get rid of the Assad regime. A few years ago, unlike other terror organizations such as the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the past, the ISIS employed the use of advanced technology and social media platforms to showcase to the world what a positive change they had brought to the city of Raqqa, Syria. Thankfully, the RBSS, comprising of a handful of anonymous activists banded together to inform to the world the truth by using the all powerful camera, secretly recording the atrocities committed by the ISIS at grave risk to their own lives. Much of all these atrocities are shown in the form of actual footage of public beheadings, crucifixions, brainwashed children shooting innocent citizens, etc. Of course, a lot of all this is extremely upsetting and unsettling to watch, more so because unlike fictional films, these are real people getting killed. 

Amid the mass of all the killing and chaos, we're introduced to each individual member of the RBSS and what role they have to play in this revolutionary form of citizen journalism, which while haphazard, does the trick. Their tool/weapons against a terror regime that has destroyed the lives of millions...a few Macbooks having Adobe Premier Pro video editors, some social media accounts, and their smartphones. These are real men, and not fictional characters created by the imagination of some writer sitting in his home, situated in some peaceful neighborhood, in some more progressive part of the world. These are real mean, thrust into a surrounding torn in strife and violence, who just hope that their children can attain a peaceful life, and that is precisely what makes us root for them. And it's precisely because we root for these real heroes that all this plays out far more tense than a crisp espionage thriller. 

Matthew Heineman also serves as editor here alongwith Matthew Hamachek and Pax Wassemann, which for a documentary is top-notch! Extremely well detailed, cathartic, and told with an impending sense of urgency, this documentary is a must watch.

I'm going with 4/5.


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