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We’ve become so immune to violence. For the hardcore action fan, onscreen atrocities have become a spectacle to behold. Does the film have a car chase? Yes! Do these cars flip over and burst into flames? Yes! Do people get shot? Yes! “Then sign us up!” This statement is not made to pass judgement. I enjoy action flicks just as much as the next person and for all of the same reasons. In making this statement, I simply wish to emphasize just how much I (and others) enjoy onscreen violence. The bigger the violence, the bigger the thrill.

However, what happens when this violence is no longer sensationalized? What happens when it is delivered in a raw, unfiltered graphic, fashion? Newer releases such as Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs and Julia Ducournau’s Raw, show extreme violence that has actually caused audiences to faint. However, at least viewers can be comforted by the idea that these are still fiction films with simulated gore. So, what happens when the same measure of violence is presented in a documentary format? It’s harder to escape. We can no longer dismiss these graphic visuals. Instead, we are forced to confront violent truths. Violence in film no longer acts as a form of catharsis, but rather as an instrument of awareness. Such is the case with Oscar nominated director, Matthew Heineman’s newest feature, City of Ghosts.

With the rise of ISIS, the city of Raqqa, Syria became a place of habitual bloodshed. With its inhabitants under the tyranny of aggressive radicalism, every day life became oppressive and fearful. In the midst of this violence, a few brave citizen journalists risked their lives to show these atrocities to the world. The footage that they’ve captured, which is included in this feature, is compelling, yet shocking. From the beginning of the movie, we witness citizen executions, beheadings, and bombings. As these images fill the screen, you can’t help but gasp at such brutality. Violence is no longer fun, cool, nor condoned. It’s real. It’s visceral. And most of all, it’s heartbreaking.

City of Ghosts does not offer us a filter. It offers us truth and the material to begin (or continue) a real conversation. For those who want to join in the dialogue, be sure to see it when it hits theaters on July 7th.

Make yourself heard!