Cove Pictures, the joint venture between Red Arrow Studios and Smuggler founders Patrick Milling-Smith and Brian Carmody, has announced its latest project: the major new feature documentary The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, based on the New York Times best-selling book.
After over a year of secretive filming due to security concerns in Mali, Africa, the new documentary film is directed by Otto Bell and produced by Idil Ibrahim (Fishing Without Nets, SEGA). Bell recently directed 2016’s highest grossing and critically acclaimed documentary, The Eagle Huntress. Argent Pictures, the film finance and production shingle, will finance and produce the film with Cove Pictures’ Dame Heather Rabbatts and Paul Sowerbutts. Argent partners Drew Brees, Tony Parker, Michael Finley and Derrick Brooks will executive produce.
Written by Joshua Hammer, the book, which was released in April 2017 about librarians undertaking one of the greatest and most daring cultural evacuations in history, catapulted to the top of the bestseller charts with a true story so incredible that it could have passed as a Hollywood screenplay.
To save ancient texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pull off a brazen heist reminiscent of an Ocean’s Eleven plot. For centuries, the progressive Islamic writings that poured out of the legendary city of Timbuktu made it an intellectual capital of the African continent and the world.
As a young adventurer and collector, Timbuktu native Abdel Kader Haidara journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, many of which were crumbling in the trunks of desert nomads. A few short years later when Al Qaeda came to town, Haidara and his band of mild-mannered librarians transformed themselves overnight into a prolific gang of world-class smugglers. The stakes were no less than civilization itself – the priceless legacy of Africa’s written history – and their historically dangerous operation saved the majority of texts from certain destruction.
The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is envisioned as a documentary with real intellectual substance set to a Malian rock and roll soundtrack – a miraculous true story of gunpoint bravery and narrow escapes that lays bare the impact of Islamic extremism while also broadening appreciation of Africa’s literary and cultural heritage. The documentary includes original vignettes shot on location in Timbuktu, Jihadi content filmed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, news reel and TV archival footage, as well as footage from citizen journalists who filmed during the occupation.
The documentary focuses on the 300 days of jihadi occupation – from April 2012 to January 2013 – when the infamous Saharan city fell under Al Qaeda’s control and a small group of scholars, led by Abdel Kader Haidara, fearing for the future of their precious manuscripts, transformed themselves into a gang of world-class smugglers. The stakes in this film go beyond life and death as they sneak thousands of books out from under the noses of their jihadi occupiers and transport them to safety across 600 miles of war-torn desert.
Argent’s Jill Ahrens said, “”The story of the librarians and the hundreds of thousands of books they sought to preserve is a truly heroic act. We all need more stories like this which will not only inspire audiences around the world but reinforce how critical the preservation of historical identity and heritage is for current and future generations.”
Idil Ibrahim said, “Otto and I are very grateful to Abdel Kader and his network for sharing this astonishing story with us. This band of scholars made history by saving history. Sadly, Mali remains under constant threat. We hope the film will provide a cause for celebration while also shining a light on Africa’s rich, but all-to-often silenced heritage and global intellectual contributions.”
“This film of a heist conceived and executed by a unlikely band of librarians against the stunning backdrop of the legendary Timbuktu is one of the most inspiring of our time,” added Cove Pictures’ Dame Heather Rabbatts.
British director / producer Otto Bell burst onto the scene in 2016 with his debut film, The Eagle Huntress, which was selected by Sundance, traveled the world, and named to the Oscar documentary feature shortlist.
The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts was published by Simon & Schuster, 2017.
CAA Media Finance reps North American sales rights to the film.