Ashley McIntyre Film Reviews

In Review: Fighting ISIS

Fighting ISIS is a VICE Media Special Report in partnership with HBO. The film explores the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and introduces viewers to Iraq’s complex ethnic and sectarian landscape, which has given rise to a number of militia groups committed to fighting against ISIS.


The film was released, January 2016, and runs 49 minutes long. Fighting ISIS won an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction Program and was nominated for Outstanding Informational Series or Special and Outstanding Picture Editing.


The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to disarm Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, liberate Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime and establish a democratic state left a power vacuum and triggered the rise of various militant groups vying for power. Following the fall of Hussein and the drawdown of Coalition forces, Iraq’s fragile state became a hot bed for sectarian violence and the epicentre of ISIS. Thirteen years after the invasion, the international community faces a larger threat than it did before the invasion.


The film follows VICE correspondent Ben Anderson as he passes across desert lands, cobbles through ruined cities and hides behind the sandbag barriers to visit the front lines of conflict in Iraq. He gains access to key groups and asks hard questions of resistance militia fighters, foreign policy makers, captured ISIS militants and displaced Iraqi people forced to flee their homes. Anderson exposes the ethnic and religious divides, tumultuous political environment and the influence of external actors in the region, which intensified the conflict and enabled ISIS to occupy large swaths of territory in Iraq. Wrapping it up into a bite-sized portion, Anderson effectively outlines how the volatile climate in Iraq has propagated ISIS and intensified the civil conflict.


The film does a good job of providing a basic introduction to the ongoing civil conflict in Iraq. It frames the information in an easy to follow manner that incorporates interviews with key players, ISIS propaganda videos and stories from displaced victims in a way that provides insight into the complexities of the conflict in Iraq. While it does not delve deeply into the rise of ISIS, it presents the major events in a simplistic fashion that is easy for viewers to piece together. Anderson’s neutral tone and broad coverage of the conflict allows viewers to understand the facts of the conflict without favouring a specific rebel militia force.


The film lacks a strong ISIS perspective and portrays ISIS as a distant, dangerous enemy of national and international forces. However, Anderson does his best to include ISIS propaganda videos and interviews with captured ISIS fighters who often offer vague but vicious responses, providing viewers with brief coverage. The documentary does not shed light on the ongoing events in Syria or what allowed ISIS to flourish in Syria. However, VICE has provided coverage of ISIS in Syria in other reports and has even embedded its journalists in ISIS strongholds to cover the Syrian experience.


Overall, Fighting ISIS offers a strong basic introduction to the conflict in Iraq and covers all major players involved in creating the Iraq witnessed today. The film does not offer any solutions, but rather covers the facts and suggests that while something must be done about ISIS, there is no clear path ahead.


You can watch Fighting ISIS on HBO or on VICE.


Photo: “151025-M-JE159-039” (2015), by U.S. Marine Corps (Cpl. Akeel Austin) via Flickr. Licensed under CC 1.0.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Ashley McIntyre
Ashley holds a Master of Science in Human Rights & International Politics from The University of Glasgow and a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies, with minors in Political Science and Canadian Studies, from Wilfrid Laurier University. Ashley has had unique opportunities to present a paper to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan officials in Taiwan, volunteer in less developed communities in Peru, participate in a GAC International Youth Internship Program in Bangladesh as a Research Assistant, and work as a Trade Department Intern in the Office of Liaison with the International Financial Institutions at the Embassy of Canada (Washington, D.C.). Ashley is interested in human rights, corporate social responsibility and trade. Ashley can be reached at