Gael Faye’s book, Petit Pays to be adapted into film

Gael Faye reads his book 'Petit pays' to students in Kigali. (File)

Casting is underway in Kigali for the film adaptation of Petit Pays, a book by French-Rwandan rapper and author Gael Faye.

Published in August 2016, Petit Pays (French for small country) is the author’s recollection of the civil war in Burundi in 1993, and subsequently genocide across the border in Rwanda in 1994.


The story revolves around a group of five boys aged between 11-14 years, growing up in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. The story is narrated by one of the boys, Gabriel (or Gaby), the book’s protagonist who is born in Bujumbura to a French father and Rwandan mother, just like Gael Faye.


It is the author’s first novel. 


Now, French movie director Eric Barbier is working on shooting a feature film adaptation of the book, to be released sometime next year.

Barbier arrived in the country over a month ago, and has been quietly casting actors to feature in the film. The casting started with the hunt for child actors taking the crew to four different schools around Kigali.

Last week, the casting went more public as the hunt for older actors kicked off. Castings were staged in Kimihurura, at Iyugi Creative, a local Media and Arts company that is working with the film director for the casting.

When The New Times visited the venue at midday on Sunday, there was a motley crowd of aspiring actors all waiting for their turn into the audition room.

It included children as young as ten years, girls, boys, students, youths, and a few established artists. Each took about five minutes before the movie director, explaining why they would be best suited for a role in the film. More numbers kept pouring in till the auditions closed at about 6pm.

To qualify for the auditions, one had to be fluent in French.

On Tuesday, October 16, the casting crew will head to the Mahama Refugee Camp in the Eastern Province, home to over 50,000 Burundian refugees that fled political upheaval in the country in 2015. Here, the aim is to find Burundian children aged 11-14 years that will act in the film.

Sold like hot cake

Already, Petit Pays has been translated to over thirty languages, a clear testament to its universal appeal.

Barbier, director of the upcoming feature film, describes the book as “very, very famous in France. I would think it was one of the best sellers there two years ago when it was released. In France alone, it has already sold over 700,000 copies.”

Barbier first visited Rwanda early last year, on a familiarisation tour ahead of the film project for which he returned this year. He had earlier heard about the movie from his daughter.

It is his first film project in East Africa, having previously worked on projects in North and South Africa.

Asked what he thought made Petit Pays a particularly interesting read, Barbier explained;

“I think it’s because it’s a story of kids. The book is talking about a bunch of five kids, and they can say whatever they want directly, yet a lot of things during this period were hidden. They are not spoken.”

“This is the first fiction story about the genocide, and I think it’s literally impossible to do a fiction about the genocide. But the story of Gael is very clever. He is talking about his mother, who goes to see her family in Rwanda at the end of the genocide and is devastated. It is a personal story.”

The shooting

Shooting of the film starts on January 7, 2019, and will last eight weeks, which the director considers as “normal time for a feature film. More than that is big. Less than that is tight.”

The shoot will be done on location in Rwanda (Kigali, and Rubavu, where the Burundian scenes in the movie will be shot).

Between 30-40 characters will be picked for the film, and so far more than 200 have auditioned. 

“We can’t count in terms of numbers. We need to find good characters in terms of age, character, and energy,” Barbier explained.

“We are looking for people who can be true to the story. That’s the most important quality. We have to meet as many people as possible and see how they relate to the story, then the acting part, if they’re great actors it’s good, but even if they’re not good actors but relate to the story it’s also good. So it’s both ways,” explained Nibagwire Dida, Managing Director of Iyugi Creative, and who is casting assistant.

With casting winding up, however, the search is still on for the film’s main protagonist, (Gabriel in Petite Pays), who must be a boy of 11-14 years, of mixed race, and French speaking.


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