The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture Celebrated Refugee Week 2017 with a public screening of award-winning documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ at The Gala Cinema on Wednesday 21st June, followed by panel discussion.

To celebrate Refugee Week 2017, an annual nationwide celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK, The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture hosted a public screening of award-winning documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ by director Johanna Schwartz at the Gala cinema in Durham.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by CVAC doctoral student Nelli Stavropoulou and discussants Dr Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University, Anthropology Department) and Dr Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián (Durham University, School of Modern Languages & Cultures).

The documentary explores the occupation of most of the north Mali by Islamic extremist groups in 2012 and their subsequent banning of all forms of music; radio stations were destroyed, instruments burned and Mali’s musicians faced persecution, torture, even death.

Overnight, Mali’s musicians were forced into exile, where a large percentage remains until this day. However, music is “the beating heart of Malian culture”, a form of self-expression and communication, which following the music bans becomes an act of resistance and collective solidarity.

The film’s narrative landscape follows the paths of four key characters who have fled in search of safety. Through a rigorous, visually enticing montage we witness their journeys and new lives across refugee camps, bombarded cities leading into the first public concert in Timbuktu since the music ban- an act of resistance and a space for celebration. The film’s commissioned soundtrack from some of Mali’s most daring artists, accompanied their stories and hopes for the future.

According to the film’s director, ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’ aims to offer an insight into the current situation in Mali as portrayed through personal testimonials: “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.”

Production still of Director, Joanna Schwartz

The post-screening discussion engaged the audience in insightful provocations by both discussants who reflected on the visual language of the film, the tensions between documentary storytelling and visual aesthetics, as well as addressed the methodological challenges of visually representing experiences of forced displacement in relation to ethics of storytelling.

This screening was part of CVAC’s annual events programme including conferences, public talks and exhibitions among other, that explores and engages with different elements of visual culture.

For future events organized by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture please visit the centre’s website: https://www.dur.ac.uk/cvac/events/eventslisting/

Nelli Stavropoulou, July 2017

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