City of Ghosts Review – Riveting, A Haunting Shocking Narrative of the Islamic State

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City of Ghosts, from Amazon Studios, A&E Indie Films and IFC Films, presents the haunting account of the take-over of Raqqa Syria by the Islamic State and the rise of the citizen activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Directed by Matthew Heineman, City of Ghosts introduces the world, using actual footage and through voice over we meet the four founding members of the international recognized and lauded citizens group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently; Azid, 25, an Syrian exile living in Germany, Hamoud, 23, with a bounty on his head, he doesn"t give his location, Hussam, 27, also living in exile in Germany, Mohamad, 34, also in exile.

City of Ghosts opens at the 2015 International Press Freedom Awards, a red-carpet event in New York City, where men and women all whom are elegantly dressed, sipping champagne, walking the red carpet and pausing for photographs are the same who may have been dressed in fatigues last week secretly videotaping or reporting in the world's most remote and dangerous locations and where journalists are murdered every day as regimens are determined to silence the press.

On this night, the room had a special heightened buzz, it wasn't the champagne, it was due to a group of four men, who were receiving the CPJ International Press Freedom Award. These four men, founder of RBSS, who lost friends, family, loved ones and lived in exile who fell into these new roles of citizen journalist after the Islamic State moved into Raqqa, Syria, their hometown, and decided to take it.

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We meet the four, pre-activist, in rebel rousing days, and we meet the beautiful river city of Raqqa, Syria, a city on the Euphrates River, full of life, love, and a people who lived and loved, who attended college with dreams of a better life, of growing old in Raqqa with the traditional milestones along the way.

Then the Arab Spring, that collective wave of democracy that spread through the Middle East and the Arab Peninsula in the Spring and Winter in 2010, reached Syria and for students at the local universities the idea that they could actually have a hand in forcing leadership change in their nation became the catalyst for their involvement in the student protests.

City of Ghosts documents those early days, the beginnings of a peaceful and aggressive Syrian Arab Spring, which as historians understand the movements were predominantly effective. More than 17 regimes changes were documented during the two years which are referenced as "Arab Spring."

The hopes that Bashar al Assad would also be one of those regime changes propelled these group of protesters forward. Soon their push was met with Syrian military shove back and our four in Raqqa, like student protesters on any campus, in any city, anywhere did not expect them to open fire and begin a slaughter.

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This moment which is also documented by the RBSS team, suddenly the Arab Spring Students of Syrian became members of the Syrian Civil Army, one of the many civilian armies that rose to fight in those difficult first days. This time was followed by the rise of the Islamic State who used its official name at the time.

Secretly videotaping the leader of ISIS, in a mosque declaring a caliphate, the city was unprepared for the violence that would accompany the takeover by ISIS. The Levant at that time controlled the borders and media, City of Ghosts also documents the rise of the group as a slick corporation, with media capabilities that are called equal to "Hollywood productions."

Slick propaganda pieces are delivered to the people and the world. City of Ghosts documents actual footage of the horrific deteriorated conditions, the starvation attempts, the lengthy food lines, murders, beheading's, footage never shown or seen in the outside world.

At this point the Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS) had grown into a full-blown citizen activists and journalistic group who met secretly, took journalism classes, learned how new computer skills, understood what the necessary impact to further the goals, began to reach the outside world with social media, using a Facebook page and also twitter, which is active even up to four minutes between posts while this review was being written.

Just as the team was gaining momentum and working with a rhythm, a border guard stopped them and one member was arrested. His computer contained details on RBSS and the enemy soon had details regarding the others and their families. The decision by the remaining core members were to leave and report virtually with a single unknown war correspondent, who was able to persuade others to film the atrocities also.

The sorrow from the fight, the years of war, the loss, murders, is evident. ISIS arrested members of our team's family, having them recite propaganda rhetoric that labels the son a lunatic, a criminal, heretic and then murders him. It is wrenching.

City of Ghosts is a harrowing narrative of life in modern war challenged by one of the most vicious, evil and insidious organization known to man since the rise of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and dreaded SS.

City of Ghosts is not for the faint at heart. Actual footage, not blurred images, images from the streets beheading"s of Raqqa. Like other hate organization ISIS is determined to control through fear, and they impale the heads on the town square fence clearly sending the message challenges us and die.

Our four reporters live looking over their shoulders always. One of the most beloved members, the Professor, the encourager, always teaching, propelling them forward was assassinated in broad daylight in neighboring Turkey after he and other members decided to leave and report remotely.

The murder deeply affected the group who further migrated to Germany still aware of the insidious tendrils of ISIS which is no more evident than today.

City of Ghosts had its world premiere at the Sundance World Festival in January 2017. It has been an official selection also at Tribeca Film Festival.

City of Ghosts is not for the weak, sometime journalist, or basement blogger, it is a story of truth, shocking truth, courage, dedication, and bravery as a ragtag band of citizen journalists uncover the atrocities of The Islamic State and the destruction of their homeland.

City of Ghosts opens July 7, 2017 and provides and insider's view into the world's most evil terrorist group. It is a must see documentary.

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