(Part 2 of 6) CITY OF GHOSTS - You Won’t See A More Urgent Documentary This Year
You’re a math teacher on your way to work. Suddenly the earth shudders, bombs fall from the sky, and buildings collapse. The terrorist attack at your doorstep - the one you’ve always feared would occur one day – has arrived. In that moment, through the dust from rubble that give way to gray ashen faces, amidst building rubble - your entire world has changed, and things would never be the same again.
If this sounds like the ad you saw on the MRT screens while waiting for the train to arrive – yes you know that one, with poorly CGI-ed explosions and flames from the MRT tunnels that end off with some form of a ‘Be Vigilant’ message – well it did happen. It happened to a city in Syria called Raqqa, which is a stronghold and headquarters of the IS terror organisation in the Middle East. Up until that point some time in 2013, the citizens of Syria who called Raqqa home lived normal everyday lives – a film student in college, a math teacher, a musician – everyday occupations coming to a screeching halt with a self-imposed rule by ISIL, suddenly dictating new laws, beheading suspected dissidents, raping women and recruiting children into their armies.
No other film I saw in Cannes this year matched the gripping emotional story I saw in CITY OF GHOSTS, a documentary we had heard so much about since its World Premiere back in Sundance in January. The film is a product of some of the most devastating conflicts in recent human history, when there is the rise of nationalism following hot debate in Europe over how to deal with the refugees from Syria, who were often portrayed in their vast overwhelming numbers, never taking on individual identities.
But to buck that trend and to profile some of these brave Raqqa residents is precisely why CITY OF GHOSTS is such an essential document of the ongoing mess in the Middle East. It is the only one you should actually pay attention to, amidst the constant avalanche of reports documenting atrocities committed by an extremist organisation. It drills down to the every day, people like you and me, who had their lifestyles upended in the course of a single day, having to fight and fend for their lives either in a dangerous side by side existence with a terror organisation relentless in totalitarian control, or crossing the Mediterranean to distant lands that offered not much better hope for salvation. How these citizens responded to the terror, risking their own lives to tell an uncaring world the truth, and the odds they face – far supersede the stakes in any inspirational biopic or tale you will hear this year.
We are proud to be able to bring CITY OF GHOSTS to Singapore, and to premiere it in Singapore on Friday 20 Oct 2017 at the Perspectives Film Festival (PFF), a film festival run by students from the NTU Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. It will play in its prestigious Opening Night slot, and we are glad that a film of such stature would take precedence at their Festival. There will also be a special video introduction by one of the journalists profiled in the film, who for reasons of safety was unable to make it to our premiere in Singapore. This video introduction is a world exclusive for the premiere at Perspectives FF. Tickets for this Singapore premiere can be found here.
Following this Singapore premiere at Perspectives FF, join me and two writers Helon Habila (Nigeria) and Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib (Singapore) on stage at the National Gallery on Saturday 4 November 2017 where we will discuss religious extremism in the world today after a screening of CITY OF GHOSTS. The film will then play at The Arts House for limited sessions, for an exclusive early engagement. These screenings are presented in partnership with the Singapore Writers' Festival. You can find tickets for these Singapore Writers' Festival screenings + special post-dialogue session here.
Compared to the trials that the brave journalists Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) face, our lives in Singapore feels safer in comparison. But the threat is ever present – as you will know about the recent coverage of an IS video featuring a Singaporean whom was radicalised and now fighting for IS in the Middle East. It feels apt to mention that we had an especially hard time classifying this film with the Singapore authorities as well, due to the sensitivity of the themes especially in these times – but eventually our authorities recognized the merit of the film’s pertinent subject matter and gave it an M18 rating, uncut. If you see only one documentary in cinemas this year, make it CITY OF GHOSTS. It will shake you to your core.