City of Ghosts review – astonishing look at Syrian media-savvy freedom fighters

This documentary about courageous activists in the Isis stronghold of Raqqa is a powerful testament to a new kind of citizen journalism

Matthew Heineman’s documentary is about a remarkably courageous group in Raqqa, Syria, who have formed something between a digital citizen journalist collective and a resistance cell. When Islamic State moved into the city after the anti-Assad insurgency and established a brutal reign, these people took out their smartphones and formed an activist group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. They uploaded their videos to YouTube and social media, and showed the world the violence and sheer psychopathic spite of Isis. This film showed me horrible images I’ve never seen before, having been squeamish about searching them out online: beheadings, executions, mock crucifixions and Nazi-style placard shaming. RBSS, as they are known, took on Isis in the digital media war, matching the jihadis’ increasingly sophisticated propaganda videos with material of their own. Some of their most devastating images concern Isis’s ruthless recruitment of children. As RBSS put it: “Children are Isis’s firewood.” Now most people in the group have taken refuge in Germany, where they live in fear of being assassinated. Their fight goes on. This is a powerful testament to a new kind of citizens’ digital journalism.

Watch a trailer for City of Ghosts on YouTube


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
City of Ghosts director Matthew Heineman: 'Imagine seeing people crucified – every day'
Their families have been killed, they live in hiding, but a brave group of Syrians continue to defy Islamic State by reporting its atrocities to the world. The director of a new documentary explains how he told their shocking stories

Gwilym Mumford

21, Jul, 2017 @5:41 PM

Article image
City of Ghosts review: could be the definitive Syria documentary
Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman’s film on citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reveals the reality of life in Isis territory

Charlie Phillips

27, Jan, 2017 @4:58 PM

Article image
Jim: The James Foley Story review – heartfelt film of brave frontline reporting
A documentary about the US journalist killed by Islamic State is a touching tribute, though it’s the footage shot by Foley that shows the full horror of the Syrian war

Peter Bradshaw

01, Sep, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
Lost in Lebanon review – the Syrian war seen through fresh eyes
The individuals behind the statistics are profiled in a documentary about Syrian refugees trying to rebuild their lives in Lebanon

Leslie Felperin

19, May, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Insyriated review – claustrophobic drama from the heart of the Syrian war
This brutally tough but absorbing film is set in a Damascus apartment in which a family with a tragic secret have barricaded themselves

Peter Bradshaw

07, Sep, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
City of Ghosts review – gruelling but essential
The citizen journalists of Syrian website Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently are haunted heroes in this documentary

Wendy Ide

23, Jul, 2017 @6:59 AM

Article image
The Deminer review – heartstopping tale of heroic bomb disposal expert
Hair-raising moments punctuate this home-movie-like documentary about a Kurdish officer disarming booby-trap devices set by jihadis in Iraq

Peter Bradshaw

25, Apr, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Sabaya review – extraordinary documentary shows struggle to free women kidnapped by Isis
Hogir Hirori’s film follows Mahmud as he and his team of volunteers infiltrate the dangerous al-Hawl camp in Syria to liberate Yazidi women trafficked as sex slaves

Phuong Le

18, Aug, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
A Flickering Truth review – builds ghost-mosaic of Afghan culture
This documentary about restoring a Kabul film archive trashed by the Taliban is a powerful survey of Afghan history

Andrew Pulver

28, Apr, 2016 @8:15 PM

Article image
A Syrian Love Story review – a searing insight into a marriage under fire
This unmissable documentary uncovers the heartbreaking story of a couple whose relationship disintegrates as they flee the horrors of Syria

Peter Bradshaw

17, Sep, 2015 @2:30 PM