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FILM REVIEW: City of Ghosts

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FILM: City of Ghosts

DIRECTOR: Matthew Heineman

YEAR: 2017

SYNOPSIS: City of Ghosts takes a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a coalition of Syrian citizen journalists called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). These brave men risk their lives to document the unreported atrocities committed by ISIS in their hometown of Raqqa. Facing persecution by the terrorist group, the documentary follows their journey as asylum-seekers, capturing the intense emotions of hope and fear that ensue.


Review by Hubert Lawrence Yeo.

To date, I have spent about 10 months of my National Service (NS) with the Ministry of Home Affairs. My job requires me to observe, plan and conduct Red Teaming exercises to help security officers identify and fix loopholes. Naturally, terrorists, along with their modus operandi and ideology, are a group of people whom I have had to grapple with and attempt to understand.

One thing has stuck with me as I near the conclusion of my NS, and Matthew Heineman’s riveting documentary City of Ghosts, which is centred around the amazing people involved in Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), helped reinforce this: bullets and bombs do little to eradicate the scourge of violence and fear promulgated by terror groups. They only serve to embolden the proponents of terror to continue inflicting damage to lives and property in pursuit of their agendas, resulting in a vicious cycle. Essentially, one may play a big part in physically eradicating proponents of terror, but it does not help to stem the spread and development of an ideology.  

The brave men and women of RBSS has set an example of what should be the way forward if we are to hope of putting a halt to dangerous extremist and militant ideology: with the power of words and being bold enough to speak truth to those in authority despite the threat to one’s life.

City of Ghosts is an incredibly powerful documentary that is well-paced and balanced. In 90 minutes, Heineman presents the gravitas of the work which RBSS is involved in, as well as the emotional tumult its members experience as Daesh (more commonly known as ISIS) murders their family and friends in a bid to compel them to desist and halt their work – but they are not deterred.

You will be unnerved during the screening of this film, with excerpts of beheadings and headshots from the propaganda videos of Daesh. It should be said that never once were these videos included in the documentary for the purpose of glorifying violence or any ideology – far from it. Rather, they serve to emphasise the importance of the work RBSS does by matching Daesh’s media campaign with their own in a bid to win over the hearts and minds of not just would-be terrorists, but also governments and organisations worldwide of the importance in banding together to stem the propagation of falsehoods, militancy and extremist thought.

I am glad RBSS won the International Press Freedom Award in 2015 from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and I hope they continue to be one of the few local voices of truth coming out of Syria over the foreseeable future, as they – together with the help of the world – work to creating a country where all would be welcomed one day.

As I write this review, happy news is breaking of Raqqa’s liberation from Daesh by US-backed militant forces in the country. However, it remains to be seen how the struggle between the Assad regime and the different forces jostling for power play out, but I do hope that all would realise, as RBSS has, that words and civil dialogue is the way forward, and not by bearing arms to inflict violence.


Learn more about the RBSS by clicking here.

Read more about the ongoing crisis by reading/watching the following articles/videos:

– Vox – Syria’s War

– The Guardian – Syria’s Civil War


ABOUT THE WRITER

Hubert Lawrence Yeo is a history and literature student who also has a passion for films – like books, they are a window to the world and have the ability to entertain through beautiful storytelling, provoke reflection on current issues, and incite action to right wrongs. Through his reviews, he hopes to grow in appreciation of this art form and encourage others to do the same.

“Our one goal is to give the world a taste of peace, friendship, and understanding through the visual arts, the art of celebration of life.”
– Steven Spielberg

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