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Victoria Film Festival 2014 Interview – THE LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR director Kiley Kraskouskas

The Last Song Before The War - At Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR is a feature-length documentary that captures the inspiring rise and uncertain future of Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert. Told through stunning high definition footage captured at the 2011 festival, THE LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR, is a lyrical road trip to legendary Timbuktu to hear Grammy-award winning musicians play their hearts out in the dunes of the Sahara. Shockingly, the music and the festival was silenced in 2012 due to the violent occupation of over of Northern Mali by Islamic extremists which has destabilized the entire Sahel region. To date, the festival and hundreds of thousands of refugees remain in exile.” Director Kiley Kraskouskas on LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR which screens tonight at the Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first movie in the Victoria Film Festival, and are you coming to Victoria for the screening?

Yes it is. Unfortunately, we will not be coming to Victoria for the screening.

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into the motion picture business.

After three years in a sociology PhD program at NYU, I decided that I was more interested in a career in filmmaking rather than academia. Around the same time, my husband and I moved to Washington, D.C. where I began interning in the film industry here. As soon as I went on my first shoot, I was hooked and quickly there after began working full time as a producer. I feel that documentary filmmaking is a great way to powerfully communicate complex social issues.

How did this whole movie come together from your perspective?

The film came together when one of my former students at NYU, Andrea Papitto, reached out to me because she wanted to make a film about The Festival in the Desert. She had been to festival and was so inspired and grateful for the hospitality she received from her good friend and Tuareg host, Abou Ansar, that she wanted to bring the experience of the festival to a large audience. Interestingly, I had worked with editor Leola Calzolai-Stewart for years, and she had lived in Mali and always said her years in Mali were some of the best in her life. As soon as Andrea and I started talking about the film I said that we needed an editor and that I know the perfect one. The three of us got on a conference call the next day, and within a week we had formed a company and began working on the film together. It was just a magical combination from day one.

[i[What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

There were several. First of all, we had to bring a crew to Timbuktu. Our major first challenge was raising the money to cover these expenses which we luckily did through a crowd funding campaign and through in-kind donations. Among other donations, Royal Air Maroc donated three round-trip tickets from New York to Mali. After the complex, multi-camera filming the desert with minimal electricity, the next challenge was dealing with interviews and music that are primarily in a foreign language, either French or Tamashek. A lot of time was spent translating footage. As independent filmmakers on a tight budget, the overall completion of the film has been challenging from a financial stand point though we are proud of what we did on a small budget.

What was your single favourite moment or rewarding experience out of the entire production?

I think seeing the final film play on the big screen and watching the audience really feel the music and the experience. It's great to see people connect with the work.

What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?

I love coffee more than anything, so that definitely helps. But making movies is incredibly challenging creatively, so it’s fun when you get to put your heads together and figure out how to tell the story in a compelling way. Unfortunately, most of the time you are trying to raise money, so when you really get to make the film that is the best part.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

Jon Ingalls, our director of photography, had been to Mali before for another film so he really knew the landscape and I think before we even got there he had shots in mind. We had a shot list of all the content we wanted captured from the beginning, so Jon had that road map, but he really took initiative in filming and made sure to get scenic shots that he knew would be incredible. We have this really long scene in the film, called the Road Trip scene and its just several minutes of the road trip from Bamako to Timbuktu that Jon filmed along the way. We know it’s a bit too long, but we just love so many of the shots, we couldn’t trim it down.

The other thing we wanted to make sure we did was shoot some of the performances and scenic shots in slow motion to convey a sense of timelessness that you feel in the desert and that was something Jon did really beautifully.

We really lucked out in terms of the concert footage. We only had Jon travel with us as our DP, but we had three Panasonic HVX200 cameras. We were able to find to camera operators at the festival which was just great. We chose the HVX200 as we knew we wanted the film to be shot on HD and this was right before everyone started shooting with DSLRS which are a huge pain in terms of audio. We needed to get our audio right. Leola, our editor, had been editing with P2 footage from these Panasonic cameras so she was very comfortable with the workflow. They are very light and easy to use cameras as well.

After the film screens in Victoria, what is the future release plan for the movie? Anywhere you WANT the movie to be shown but haven't done so yet?

We definitely want the film to be shown in Mali and that has not happened yet.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film in a cinema?

This just happened to me the other day at a children’s film. I just turned around and said, “I am sorry, can you please stop talking, we can’t hear the film.” I get it if someone has to send a text in a film, but talking is just the rudest in my opinion.

There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

My best advice is to just do it. If you have an idea you really believe in, just start developing it; write a treatment, create a budget, build a schedule and treat it like a real project. I never went to film school and if we had waited for someone to “greenlight” this project, it would never have happened. But, now that it’s a reality, people want to see it.

I would also say that you should work with people who are more skilled than you whenever you can. As an aspiring filmmaker, you are not going to know how to do everything, so know what you are good at and know when to get help. Your film is a sum all the people who work on it, so try to get the best people to work on it and pay them even if you have to negotiate a discount. Don’t ask people to work for free; if you can’t value someone’s time, don’t expect them to value your direction.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?


This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/16/14 03:47:53
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