EXCLUSIVE: New York Times bestseller The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is getting a documentary adaptation with director Otto Bell (The Eagle Huntress) and producers Argent Pictures (Chasing Coral), Idil Ibrahim (Fishing Without Nets) and fledgling UK outfit Cove Pictures.
Written by Joshua Hammer, the book, released in April 2017, follows the true story of a group of librarians who undertook a daring cultural evacuation to save ancient texts from Al Qaeda.
The documentary, which due to security concerns has been shot secretly over more than a year in Mali, Africa, 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. It hones in on a small group of scholars, led by Abdel Kader Haidara, who fearing for the future of their precious manuscripts, transformed themselves into a gang of world-class smugglers. Amid life-and-death stakes, 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.
The film will include original vignettes shot on location in Timbuktu, Jihadi content filmed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, newsreel and TV archival footage, as well as footage from citizen journalists who filmed during the occupation. It is also due to have a Malian rock and roll soundtrack.
Argent Pictures, the film finance and production shingle run by Jill Ahrens, Ryan Ahrens and Ben Renzo, 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 be executive producers. CAA Media Finance reps North American rights.
Argent’s previous doc titles include the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral and They Fight (Fox Sports Films). The company has also backed movies including Hacksaw Ridge and The Birth of a Nation. The firm just finished shooting Good Joe Bell starring Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton and is now in production on Kung Fury 2.
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.”
Bell’s well-received Sundance 2016 doc The Eagle Huntress, narrated and executive produced by Daisy Ridley, was picked up by Sony Classics.
Cove Pictures is a new international TV production company based in London, New York and Los Angeles. Led by Rabbatts, the high-end drama, comedy, and factual outfit is a joint venture between Patrick Milling-Smith and Brian Carmody, the co-founders of Smuggler Inc, and Red Arrow Studios.
Hammer was represented on behalf of Sterling Lord Literistic by Hotchkiss Daily and Associates. Bell is repped by CAA.