Since 2007, March 3 has been declared Music Freedom Day around the globe. With unique musical events and initiatives in more than 30 countries, the day commemorating freedom of expression and human rights continues to captivate millions. This March, BBC Worldwide North America will release They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile, a feature-length documentary which bowed at 2015’s SXSW Film Festival. Directed by Johanna Schwartz and featuring an original score by Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the film – hailed by Indiewire as a “gripping, powerful documentary” and “social journalism of the highest order” by The Austin Chronicle – will open at New York City’s Village East Cinema on March 4 and Los Angeles’ Laemmle Santa Monica Theater on April 1 and other markets. The commissioned soundtrack, featuring some of Mali’s most exciting artists, also releases on March 4.
Music is the beating heart of Malian culture, but when Islamic jihadists took control of northern Mali in 2012, they enforced one of the harshest interpretations of sharia law by banning all forms of music. Radio stations were destroyed, instruments burned, and Mali’s musicians faced torture, even death. Overnight, the country’s revered musicians were forced into hiding or exile, where most remain — even now. But rather than laying down their instruments, these courageous artists fought back, standing up for their freedoms and using music as a weapon against the ongoing violence that has ravaged their homeland.
They Will Have To Kill Us First,director Schwartz’s debut feature, follows the groupSonghoy Blues andmusicians Kharia Arby, Fadimata “Disco” Walet Oumar,and Moussa Sidi as they each deal with the unfathomable situation in different ways. Telling the story of the uprising of Touareg separatists, revealing footage of the jihadists, and capturing life at refugee camps where both money and hope are scarce, Schwartz and her indefatigable, mainly female, crew chart the perilous journeys to war-ravaged cities, as some of Mali’s most talented musicians set up and perform at the first public concert in Timbuktu since the music ban.
Co-written by Schwartz and Andy Morgan, renowned journalist and former manager of Grammy® Award winning band Tinariwen, They Will Have To Kill Us First is produced by Sarah Mosses of Together Films and executive produced by Andre Singer (The Act of Killing) alongside Stephen Hendel, Victoria Steventon, OKAY Africa and Knitting Factory Entertainment.
After witnessing the atrocities perpetrated against the musicians of Mali, the filmmakers have launched several initiatives in support of freedom of expression. The Music in Exile Fund will contribute towards the international organization Index on Censorship’s “Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship,” which is a year-long structured assistance program to support those facing censorship. The fund will support at least one musician or group nominated in the arts category of the awards. The fund provides training and support to musicians on the African continent who have found themselves targeted, censored, attacked, or threatened. Whether simply providing bus fare to get a visa for a gig abroad, guitar amps so that exiled musicians in refugee camps can hold a concert, or security so that musicians can perform without fear, The Music in Exile Fund seeks to make a difference in the lives of oppressed artists wherever they may be. The fund will also help support Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards, being held this April 13 in London.
A #TheyWillHaveToKillUsFirst tattoo campaign, supported via social media channels, also continues to raise global awareness for the plight of musicians in exile around the world.
“It is hard to imagine life without music, but for the people of Mali, whose culture is so deeply rooted in music, this is a reality they had to face every day. It is a privilege to be able to bring this incredible tale of perseverance in the face of terrible adversity to the U.S.,” states Soumya Sriraman, EVP of Franchise and Digital Enterprises.
“I am so proud to bring these musician’s stories to the world. They’ve been through hell, and survived to sing about it. Though the conflict in Mali is still far from over, with extremist attacks continuing in the north and south to this day, I have no doubt that these musicians will continue to stand up and fight for their right to sing,” stated director Johanna Schwartz.
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About BBC Worldwide North America
BBC Worldwide North America is the main commercial arm and wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) operating in the U.S. and Canada. The company exists to maximize the value of the BBC’s assets for the benefit of the UK license payer and invests in public service programing in return for rights. The company operates four businesses in the territory – linear and digital content sales and co-productions, consumer products, BBC.com, and two production divisions – BBC Worldwide Productions, responsible for the smash hitDancing with the Stars and the U.S. version of Top Gear; and Adjacent Productions, producers of DaVinci’s Demons, Life Below Zero, and Ladies of London, among others. The company also owns a 50.1% share in cable channel BBC AMERICA through a joint venture with AMC Networks.
About Together Films – www.TogetherFilms.org
Together Films is an award winning production company and consultancy based in London, co-founded by Sarah Mosses and Elizabeth Benjamin, specializing in feature length documentaries that spark debate around contemporary social issues. The team advises numerous filmmakers and institutions to craft Impact Distribution Campaigns to ensure films reach the right audience, with the right message, at the right time in order to support strategic impact goals. Frequently working alongside leading distributors to maximize reach, the team have recently contributed to campaigns for the following films; Oscar® Winning CITIZENFOUR (BRITDOC/Artificial Eye), THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS (Pulse Films) and most recently supporting educational outreach in the UK for the Oscar® shortlisted feature THE HUNTING GROUND. Their debut feature production THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST, produced by Sarah Mosses, had it’s World Premiere at SXSW 2015.
About Spring Films – www.SpringFilms.tv
Spring Films is an award-winning, London-based production company specializing in international co-productions and high-end documentaries for television, cinema, DVD, IMAX and multi-media platforms. Spring Films’ creative team includes some of the most successful directors, producers, executive producers and commissioning editors in UK television. Led by renowned anthropologist and eminent documentary veteran André Singer, they have created hundreds of award-winning films, working with figures such as Werner Herzog, Carol Morley, Bettany Hughes, Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed, Michael Palin and Hugh Laurie. Recent and upcoming highlights include: A feature documentary on the astonishing restoration of the most shocking film of the 20th Century Night Will Fall (Theatrical, Channel 4, MDR/Arte), Werner Herzog’s IMAX special Volcano, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence and the award-winning, Oscar-nominated feature documentary The Act of Killing.