‘Festival in the Desert’ is a documentary about a musical event in Mali

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At a computer in Bamako, Mali, Manny Ansar couldn’t help smiling. A reporter had asked by e-mail whether Ansar — the co-founder and director of Mali’s Festival in the Desert — had seen “The Last Song Before the War,” a documentary about the festival’s 2011 edition, directed by Kiley Kraskouskas of Falls Church, Va.

In fact, he watches it often. Hence his smile, which he mentioned, e-mailing back in French.

Ansar noted that “The Last Song Before the War” is by no means the only substantial film about the festival, which is currently in exile following violent developments in northern Mali in 2012. So far, “there have been at least a half dozen” films, not counting smaller documentary programs, Ansar said.

“But honestly,” he added, speaking of “Last Song,” “this film is, for me, the most complete. Unlike others filmed around the same time, it is entirely focused on the festival itself. It touched on every aspect of the festival — its origins, its day-to-day content, even the geographical steps involved in getting there, without ever forgetting the politico-social context” of the festival’s 2011 incarnation.

A visually rich concert film, featuring performances by musicians such as Vieux Farka Touré and Tinariwen, supplemented by interviews with Ansar and others, “Last Song” traveled the festival circuit in 2013 and 2014. This month sees a planned release on DVD and via Vimeo on Demand.

The scheduled release comes four years after the “Last Song” team traveled to the festival on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Kraskouskas’s co-producers — Leola Calzolai-Stewart and Andrea Papitto — had spent time in Mali and were interested in documenting the festival, which launched in 2001.

About a year after the shoot, in 2012, Islamist militants (originally aligned with Tuareg rebels) took over swaths of northern Mali, banning more or less all music and driving many musicians into exile. A 2013 French military intervention helped Mali’s government push the Islamist militants back, and there have been peace negotiations with Tuareg separatists, but instability and sporadic violence have continued in the country’s north. Although the 2012 edition of the festival took place (Bono was there), subsequent iterations did not, ceding to traveling “Festival in Exile” and “Cultural Caravan for Peace” programming in locations around the world.

Source: The Washington Post 13 January 2015