Films breathe new life into legends

Sunday February 23 2020

Jean Pierre Ndacyayisaba (second right) directs a scene for his latest movie, 'The Drop'. PHOTO | COURTESY

Jean Pierre Ndacyayisaba (second right) directs a scene for his latest movie, 'The Drop'. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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When Rwandans talk about wealth, one man’s name always comes up. He is from the distant past, but the name Mirenge has weight.

Legend has it that Mirenge, who lived in Ntenyo, present day Muhanga District in the south of the country, was wealthy. However, on his deathbed, he did not bequeath or reveal where his wealth lay to his family or friends.

Mirenge is the subject of a new film directed by film director Jean Pierre Ndacyayisaba, who is tapping into Rwandan folklore and legends to create modern entertainment using their storylines.

Rwandans connect the present to the “glorious” past through proverbs and stories. Ndacyayisaba seeks to bring to life the largely forgotten storylines, and make them relatable to today’s generation.

In Ndacyayisaba’s most recent movie The Drop, Mirenge’s wealth is still undiscovered. A group of unemployed hoodlums set out to look for it after a tip off.

On folklore, Mirenge’s wealth included a wide range of precious stones, but in the movie the expedition involves diamonds. The three men are tipped off by one of the descendants of Mirenge, who also wants to turn around his fortunes.


All he can provide to the three-armed young men is an old coded map of where the diamonds are presumed to be buried; it needs decoding before they proceed. But when they are close to discovering the diamonds, greed sets in.

In another film titled Era, Ndacyayisaba features witches, who had terrorised Rwandans centuries ago, but disappeared after they were targeted in a purge.

The era of hunters and witches is well documented in Rwandan history. The stories are benevolent to hunters, but unfavourable to the witches, given the cruelty that characterised their activities.

In the movie, the resurgence of the witches after two centuries is lethal, because they come with vengeance after an entire generation of their kin was wiped out. The thriller brings out the mystic, how the witches conduct their business, the new enterprise having been revamped by descendants of the few that survived the purge.

The past generations hunted and defeated the witches, and the present day story in the movie has an equally zealous group dedicating themselves to killing them.

The budget for Era was Rwf12million ($12,000) and Ndacyayisaba expects to make Rwf20million ($20,000) in revenues.

His movies are shot in different locations in Rwanda, and have been shown in theatres across the country, cinestar in Nyamirambo, as well as on Zacu TV — a platform for Rwandan films.

His movie, Flame, was nominated for the Focus on Ability award in Australia. The 25-year-old filmmaker was pursuing a mining course, but realised his passion was in film making, so he studied digital media production with a major in multimedia and filmmaking at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre, in Kigali.