THE BFI LFF BEGINS ON THE BLOG AS I SPEAK TO DIRECTOR JOHANNA SCHWARTZ ON THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST...

17:28:00

Hey Lovelies,

With London Film Festival nearly upon us, I have already started to work out the dates, events, films and items in which I would love to see and for me some of that has already begun! Earlier this week I was granted permission to speak to the director of a huge film, ‘The Will Have to Kill Us First’, directed by Johanna Schwartz, and I spoke to hear about the film.


From the people she met to the reasons in which she made it, I was honoured to be allowed to interview her lovelies, so I hope you all enjoy it...

I have just finished watching the film and I feel as though my heart has gone through so much. How did you come about making such an incredible film?
I have long been a fan of Malian music and spent over 15 years covering Africa for various broadcasters. So when I read about the banning of music in Mali I felt actually sick. At that time I was already planning a trip out to the Festival in the Desert, the legendary music gathering that took place in the sand dunes outside of Timbuktu year after year. Needless to say, the festival was cancelled, but I went to Mali anyway and just began filming. On that first trip I had no idea what was going to unfold, I just jumped.

The people within it all have amazing stories, how did you find them? And what interested you about them?
I was determined from the start to find characters who fully represented the variety of musicians in Mali, not just the ones we in England may have already heard of. I wanted to find a cross section of jobbing musicians, super stars, men, women, those from the north and the south. I wanted to find people who had been deeply affected by the conflict in Mali and subsequent banning of music. Each of the musicians in the film was made a refugee, but having said that they have all had very different experiences with the conflict and not all of them are proud of the decisions they made during wartime. It was a very complex situation and I wanted to find characters who could try and explain or show that to the rest of us.

Music is the key aspect of this film, but I felt that it was the relationships in which the people had with it that really stood out. What went through your mind when you heard them for the first time?
The musicians in the film have such different styles of composing, but each of them play from their soul. The music I heard when I first met the characters (because of course, the first thing they wanted to do was sing and play for me) gave me such insight into who they were as people, and that is gold for a filmmaker. I felt like when we started the first few days of filming I was already in tune with them and therefore one step ahead of where I usually start.

There are some scenes within it that are hard to watch, how did it feel going to those places and witnessing those moments? Did it make you more determined as a film maker?
Once I decided that I was going to make this film there was literally nothing the universe could throw at me that could stop me. And there was an awful lot put in my way, both out in Mali and back here at home. But to be honest I am still processing a lot of what I experienced out in Mali. I think it will be a few years before I fully come to grips with the intensity of the experience.

Since making the film, have you stayed in touch with the people who feature in the film?
We are in touch with Songhoy Blues constantly (the wonders of facebook!) and the others we speak to about once a month at the moment. We lost track of Moussa for a few months this summer and eventually had to ask our fixer to ask his friend who lived in Gao (where we last saw Moussa) to go find him for us. Turns out his phone was stolen, so we wired a few pounds over so that he could buy a phone and we could contact him again. There are still a lot of logistics we are sorting out with the musicians in terms of the forthcoming soundtrack and we need to be able to reach them all right now. On the fun side, we are planning to tour the film this October and November across Europe alongside concerts by Songhoy Blues and Khaira Arby. And I hope that next Spring we will be able to tour in Africa with all the musicians from the film. I think audiences will have a lot of questions for them.

Would you go back and explore their stories further?
That’s a good question. At this stage I have no idea. I still feel like I am still immersed in this story as it is, and I plan on spending a lot of time with my rushes uncovering some hidden gems that didn’t make it into the film. We will be releasing these vignettes over the next year as we release the film in different territories. I am very, very keen to go back and tour the film around Mali as well, but at the moment safety is more of a concern that it was when I started. I think Songhoy Blues will have an extraordinary trajectory and I hope that I will be able to continue to follow their progress.

What do you want audiences to get from this film? What would you like them to feel upon leaving the cinema?
At the very least, I want to convert a huge number of people to be Malian music fans. I hope to show people a side of African music that blows their minds and is not at all what they had thought it was. Beyond that, this film has a massive scope to raise and explore issues that are haunting us today, and when I say “us” I mean people from every country on earth. The refugee crisis, anti-Muslim prejudices, the spread of extremist groups in north and west Africa, the nature of statehood and independence, corruption and good governance. I think this film will speak to many different people in many different ways – we just need to make sure everyone sees it. We’re also just about to launch a fund where people can directly help musicians and artists who are being persecuted and censored. This has huge potential to help individual musicians just like the ones in our film. Watch this space.

The film is having its European Premiere at the London Film Festival, how did you feel when you found out that the film had been chosen for the event?
My desire right now is for as many people as possible to see the film. And that’s not easy! There are a lot of exceptional films out there. So we are hugely thankful that LFF choose to shine a light on this one. We cannot reach people without incredible platforms like LFF. I am honoured that they chose my film to screen, especially in a year with such an amazing line up. I can’t think of a better way to launch it in Europe. 

What is it about London that makes it so special within films?
I know what you mean. I arrived in London in 1994 to go to University and knew from about ten minutes in that I would live here for the rest of my life. It is special, and whatever it is that makes it special comes across on the screen for sure. I love the looks on Songhoy Blues’ faces as they are traveling through London. It’s exactly the same look I had when I stepped off the plane in 1994. 

Finally could you tell us anything about your future projects?
At the moment I am concentrated 100% on They Will Have To Kill Us First. I have always believed that you need to spend an equal, or even longer amount of time getting your film out there as you did making it. Otherwise, what’s the point? I am planning to tour with the film across Europe this autumn and then into North America in the Spring, raising awareness, engaging audiences and working with some amazing partners. I also plan to spend a lot of time with my baby, who was born right in the middle of making this film and who I missed a great deal on my trips to Mali. As for next projects, I am sure inspiration will strike me when I least expect it. I don’t know what it will be, but I know that when it hits me I will, once again, jump.

To find out more about the film lovelies, click here: http://www.theywillhavetokillusfirst.com/ I would definitely suggest watching this one!

Blog Soon,
Joey X


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