City of Ghosts

This documentary has some powerful stuff going on. It also reminds us how dangerous journalism can be, as some regular guys record the atrocities in their home city on cell phone cameras. Filming and exposing this, leads them to a life in exile. They’re threatened with death from ISIS and constantly looking over their shoulders. The problem is…as far as documentaries go, it just didn’t hold my interest for that long. That’s partly because we’ve been reading and hearing about ISIS for so long, that only small portions of this are new. It is powerful to actually see footage of executions, in which ISIS is shooting people at point blank range in the town square. Yet even that, and beheadings, we’ve seen online.

A handful of Syrians started a group called “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” to expose all this, and we watch as they move to various safe houses in places like Germany and Turkey —  where they’re surprisingly not always welcomed with open arms.

Director Matthew Heineman, who gave us the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land, also gets a bit manipulative with how he’s filming this with various edits.

While I was surprised that a few of the folks featured — Aziz, Mohamad, and Hamoud — all seem more westernized than I would’ve guessed. My wife pointed out, “It’s hard for me to have complete sympathy for these guys when they treat their women only a couple notches above how ISIS treats them as far as oppression is concerned. There’s a reason why the whole group is men, and the one woman we see…she’s pregnant, and she often stays inside the house, or is covered up.”

The group won an International Press Freedom Award a few years ago, and that starts to expose some of this to the rest of the world. I guess that with all I’ve seen on the news and read in the paper (not to mention some documentary shorts in the recent Oscar race, one that even won — The White Helmets)…we’re well aware of ISIS. So a more personal and interesting documentary should’ve been made with such incredible footage and access that was given to this filmmaker. Putting a human face on the toll it takes on a town that’s being slaughtered…should’ve been more moving.

Maybe if I would’ve learned more about these guys on a personal level, it would’ve been more interesting. That’s not to say there weren’t elements of this that weren’t. I thought the ISIS propaganda and use of children was fascinating.

This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.