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Tribeca Review: “City of Ghosts” (2017) ★★★★★


There is no right time to watch Matthew Heineman’s City of Ghosts. Whether you do it at night or the first thing in the morning, it will have the same effect on you. It is tough, brutal, honest and horrifying to see the world the way it is. Yes, it has been cruel to many of us, and even you. But one thing you learn from this incredibly immersive movie is that this world would have been a worse place to live if not for the unconditional steps taken by activists who put their lives on the line for the duty to serve as citizen journalists to bring out the truth. Yes, regardless of that, you won’t be able to prepare yourself for an outcome of this film… because the city you live in or mine has its own story to tell – but what happened in Raqqa, the Syrian city, should never have happened in the 21st century under any circumstances… and if it did… that means, we’re doing something wrong if we ever allowed this to ever occur.…

Having a long intro won’t describe the entire pain you will have to go through as you watch City of Ghosts. Beheaded bodies, bullets that mark the head of innocent people, children losing their lives, families that disappear within seconds is not the only thing you will be seeing along the road. The film tells the story of Raqqa Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a group of brave citizen journalists who on a daily basis take unimaginably great risks to distribute the photos and videos of violent actions done by the ISIS. Having declared an informative war, the group has to run to Gaizentep, Turkey to continue their rebellion there. Some hid in undisclosed locations in Germany to fight against ISIS.

Through archival footages, you will find beheaded bodies alongwith their heads put on display as a lesson for Raqqa’s people that the same will happen to them if they won’t be obedient. Hamoud, one of the activists says, “Camera is more powerful than a weapon.” By saying that, he is not just throwing words into thin air, but proves them in action while the videos that he took or pictures are being broadcasted all over international news. For five years you will find all brave activists continuing their fight against ISIS while the world turns a blind eye… all until ISIS turns their attention outside of Syria.

It will be enough to watch a few graphic scenes to feel sick to the stomach. It’s unbelievable and shocking to see what was happening, and is still happening in Syria under some extreme rules of ISIS. Aziz says, to destroy ISIS, bombs or super-advanced weapons won’t help. The fight should begin, he continues, with the government which needs to put an effort to stop the massacre of its own people. But I guess what we learn from City of Ghosts is that the State is so powerless that its inability to take actions is stunning.

In conclusion, City of Ghosts is a powerful documentary movie that can be easily used as a definition of war in Syria. Every scene or speech will make you feel helpless. And I am sure many who were against Syrian refugees might change their mind as the struggle or nightmare they have to go through every day is nothing you might have seen or heard before.  But trust me on that, if you never had a desire to stop the Earth to get off, after you watch it you will certainly like to….

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