★★★★☆

DIRECTOR Matthew Heineman follows up his brutal, Oscar-nominated Cartel Land with this equally harrowing and alarming film focused on one of the modern world’s most inescapable issues.

In 2013 the people of Raqqa, Syria, succeeded in overcoming Bashar al-Assad’s forces. But mere months later Daesh arrived, immediately and forcefully overtaking the country’s sixth largest city, cutting it off completely from the rest of the world and beginning to produce propaganda before revealing the callous nature imposed on anyone who dared stand against them.

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The film follows the efforts of the heroic Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a small group of activists who have made it their mission to disseminate information across news sites, blogs and social media about what’s going on in Raqqa, from the strict law to executions on the street.

Despite being under constant threat of capture, torture and execution, a handful of citizens does everything it can to keep going in the hope that the city, the place that they still consider home, can be saved from the brutality of the group that has taken over.

Heineman gives us a ground-level, intensely raw view of the atrocities committed by Daesh, giving us insight into how the group operates, with absolutely no qualms about showing the reality of what has and continues to happen. This is partly via the sickening footage released by the group as a means to both frighten their enemies and recruit others.

But Heineman’s film offsets the inhumanity with the endlessly admirable dedication and bravery of the members of RBSS. Many of them have fled to Turkey and beyond but are still tethered – by both their self-appointed mission and those family members still stuck living under the regime – to their homeland.

We see them clandestinely filming what’s happening inside the purposefully isolated city via mobile phones and small video cameras, literally risking their lives for the truth. It’s a cinematic testament to what citizen journalism can be and the crucial role of the media as a means to inform the world. This is brutally forthright but wholly essential filmmaking for our time that shines a light on one of the darkest corners of humanity.