Syria War Movie 'City of Ghosts' Shows Citizens Fighting for Their Lives Against ISIS In Raqqa

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Directed and produced by the Academy Award-nominated maker of Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman, City of Ghosts follows the journey of the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently Handout

As he inhales deeply on a cigarette, Mohamed, a 34-year-old reporter for Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), watches old footage of a celebration in his hometown now overrun by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

A refugee, sat in Gaziantep Turkey, he says he never thought he would leave the city as he looks at the screen: a smiling, dancing Mohamed in pressed white shirt and black tie looks back at him.

A cellular phone rings. “Raqqa is in the worst state it has ever been,” Ibrahim, one of the citizen journalist’s contacts says briefly on an intermittent line. “ISIS has taken—“ he says before the call cuts dead.

Read More: Where Isis commanders will go after Raqqa falls

Mohamed, fraught, presses the cell to his head and sighs.

Placing themselves inside the close-knit group of citizen journalists from Raqqa, the makers of City of Ghosts follows Mohamed, Aziz, Hamoud and Hassam as they risk their lives to fight ISIS and its propaganda war in the group’s de-facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.

Directed and produced by the Academy Award-nominated maker of Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman, the film follows the group as they live undercover and on the run after a wave of assassinations and reprisals forces them into exile.

“Over the year that I spent with the group, I was surprised that the film became so much more than the chronicles of RBSS versus ISIS. The more I shot with them, the more the story twisted and turned into one that also touched on the immigrant experience, the strength of brotherhood, and one’s haunting relationship with trauma,” Heineman said.

The sacrifices made by the group and documented in the film are immense. Hamoud, one of the co-founders of RBSS had a bounty put on his head by ISIS after becoming a vocal critic of the group.

When he fled Raqqa and the militants were unable to kill him, they executed his father, later publicly releasing a  video  showing the killing. Just months afterwards Hamoud learned that one of his brothers had also been assassinated by ISIS, while another disappeared.

City Of Ghosts uses its characters’ personal footage , captured as the activists escaped  Syria, juxtaposing the group’s flight from the country with videos they had recorded, and were being sent from inside Raqqa. Some of the filming from inside the ISIS capital has never been released.

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance attempting to oust ISIS from Raqqa earlier this month began its assault on the Old City, the militant group’s most fortified position in the urban centre.

As coalition intensifies their siege, Heineman believes behind the front-page news the information war waged by groups like RBSS will continue to be of crucial important. “ It’s this ideological battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation that may end up having the most lasting impact on the fight against terrorism,” he said.