City of Ghosts

Aug 30, 2017

You want real heroes? Look no further.

City of Ghosts

Grade: A-

Director: Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land)

Cast: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis), Hamoud, Hassan

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 32 min

by John DeSando

Having won a national award for journalism, I was feeling really pumped about me until I saw the journalists in City of Ghosts. Here are heroes who leave me breathless in awe of their courage fighting Isis in its home, Raqqa. A formerly docile town, it changed with the emergence of ISIS tanks in 2014 after the remarkable Arab Spring of 2012.

The citizen journalists, RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently), begin fighting in earnest when they realize ISIS has taken control because of the vacuum of power after that Spring. This doc is almost exclusively a chronicle of their struggle to remain viable after ISIS zeroed in on them and began torturing and beheading relatives and friends.

So the heroism is much more personal than fighting ISIS; it is about good people combating an implacable foe at the expense of their families and themselves. When the doc shows a fighter watching a video of his father being assassinated and when at the end of the film a fighter shakes in guilt and fear over having survived and his friends didn’t because he escaped from Raqqa, the audience is witnessing a reality show like no other our poor commercial fluff gives us in that name.

The depressing element of this is how successful ISIS has been because of the Hollywood production type elements in these gruesome and seductive promos. Assassinations are edited with the expertise of your garden-variety super-hero blockbuster.

City of Ghosts features fighters who are ghosts of their former happy lives, but they are heroes the likes of which we have long forgotten.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at