Niyongabo quit law school for ‘invincible’ career in film making

In the third year into his Bachelor of laws degree course, Yves Montand Niyongabo decided to quit and pursue his dream career, film making. 
Yves Niyongabo. Sunday Times/Courtesy
Yves Niyongabo. Sunday Times/Courtesy

In the third year into his Bachelor of laws degree course, Yves Montand Niyongabo decided to quit and pursue his dream career, film making. 

“Studying law was not my first option. My dream career was always to do something with media and film making. When I completed high school, there were not so many alternatives, so I just did law as plan B. But when I got the opportunity to go for film making, I decided, against my parent’s will, to drop law. I still think that someday, I will go back and finish my degree.” 

Niyongabo is one of the youngest film directors in the country. His first stint in Hillywood movies came in 2006, when he worked as production coordinator on the feature film, Munyurangabo, the first Rwandan feature film, by Lee Isaac Chung.

The film was selected to the 2007 Festival de Cannes (Un Certain Regard). Following this, Niyongabo went on to take part in various film training programs and workshops, continuing to work on different films, mainly as script advisor and assistant director, before beginning to make his own films.

He is now working on “The Invincible”, a documentary film about the inspiring story of a Rwandan artiste who, after losing his parents and four siblings in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, tries to retreat into his successful music career for solace. The Rwandan artiste in question is acted by prominent folk musician and peace ambassador, Jean Paul Samputu, as the main protagonist.

Soon, however, it dawns on Samputu that playing music won’t magically wash away his dark inner feelings; that his bitterness will never leave him until he approaches his father’s killer, Vincent. Vincent is the other protagonist in the film, the friend that Samputu knew from childhood, grew up with, played soccer with and went to the same school. 

Niyongabo wrote the movie script for The Invincible, and is currently directing shooting of the movie. The idea for The Invincible came from the movie script for Crossing Lines, written by Yves Montand Niyongabo. In June this year, Crossing Lines scooped the second annual film script competition organized by the Goethe-Institute. 

“This is an inspirational story of a Rwandan/African established and prominent artiste who, after losing his parents and 4 siblings, for many years tries to seek the escape in his successful music career but is still struggling with an inner feeling that he won’t ever fight until the day he approaches his childhood friend, the person he grew up with, went to school with and played soccer with, to simply forgive him since he had played a main part in the killing of his family,” says Niyongabo. 

“I started to write the script in 2011 after meeting Samputu in a youth peace camp in Gisenyi. I was a mentor in the camp and he was the speaker. We got to talk and he shared his testimony so I got inspired and started to write,” he adds. 

Most of the movie is actually interview-based. The principal photography took place at various locations in Kigali, beginning in June, and more recently the shoot was taken to Kampala, Uganda, “where his (Samputu’s) family’s killer currently lives”.

“We’ve been shooting the movie from Rwanda to Uganda and now back in Rwanda, we’ll keep shooting till the end of January 2014. I’m the director in the shoot, and the producer of the whole film project.”

Niyongabo is all praises for Samputu for accepting a role in the movie: “Samputu is a generous and open person, very creative and someone very easy to get along with. But with his busy and tight schedule, it’s always hard to find him and keep him for longtime for the shooting. He’s a world traveler and has got a lot of duties.”

On why it had to be Samputu, not any other Rwandan artiste he says: “I didn’t have to choose. It is a documentary film and it’s a story about him.  So as it’s not fiction, the right and lead character was him.” 

Niyongabo is lucky to have had his project bankrolled by the Goethe Institute, through the $8,500 prize money that came with his win at the second annual film script competition in June. Otherwise, he cites ‘the lack of funding and distribution’ as some of the biggest stumbling blocks to his movie-making ambitions.

Still, he is keeping his head high. “I’m planning to produce my feature fiction film next year in Uganda, but for now, all my efforts are going into this documentary film. It will premier next year for the 20th anniversary of the Genocide.


Born in 1988 in Burundi, where he spent a large part of his childhood, Yves Niyongabo returned with his parents to settle in Rwanda in 1994, after the Genocide.  In High School, he studied Literature and Arts.

In 2004, he won the national poetry competition for high school literature students. He studied law at university before dropping out in third year to pursue filmmaking. 

In 2006, he worked as coordinator of production on Lee Isaac Chung’s feature Munyurangabo. His first short film, “Maibobo’ (street kid), was selected as part of International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Forget Africa project in 2009. 

The film premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, screened in a number of film festivals around the world, and won two awards in Milan African, Asia and Latin America Film Festival in 2010. 

In 2010, he wrote and directed a documentary film, Burden of My Heart. 

The film premiered at the 2011 DOK Leipzig film festival, and went on to win the Jury Youth Prize and Best Domestic Documentary Award at the Tempo film festival in Finland.

Niyongabo is the founder of “K-Dox,” the first workshop in Rwanda specifically dedicated to documentary movie-making.


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