Originally titled SALAFISTES, the film contains footage gathered in exceptionally dangerous conditions following the 2012 jihadi occupation of Northern Mali, which continues today, and in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Directed by French filmmaker François Margolin, and Mauritanian-Malian-French journalist Lemine Ould Salem, the film was made in partnership with French television, and was scheduled to open in 30 theaters across France in 2015. With tensions high in France following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, concern was raised regarding the inclusion of extremist rhetoric, and Islamic State propaganda. Margolin defended the footage, saying “the interviews explain the ideology of these people, and the propaganda images are here to show in practice how their ideas work. People are intelligent enough to understand the contrast.”
As a censorship debate raged France over SALAFISTES, Claude Lanzmann, the director of the Holocaust film SHOAH, penned an open letter to the Culture Minister calling it a “masterpiece,” and asking for the documentary to not ban or censor the documentary that was shedding light on the life of citizens stuck living under Jihadi controlled territory. Lanzmann highlighted that a documentary had not been banned in France since October in Paris about the police killing of Algerian demonstrators, which was censored until 1973.
The film was finally released, but only after the French government restricted the film to an 18+ audience, making it unable to be aired on French television as originally intended, and in all 30 of the originally booked theaters. After being relegated to only three theaters, SALAFISTES was in such a demand that one theater screened the film for an entire year throughout 2016.
The film has since been translated, re-named to JIHADISTS, and re-edited to include newly filmed content that provides added framing and context to the original French release. JIHADISTS will open in the U.S. on January 25, 2019 at Cinema Village in NYC, and February 1, 2019 in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Music Hall.
For more on the film’s controversial French release:
New York Times: France Restricts ‘Salafistes,’ Film on Islamic Radicals
The Guardian: Les Salafistes is gruelling viewing – but it can help us understand terror. The documentary has hit a nerve in France but it could be vital in defeating a twisted ideology