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'Ashes and prophets'

A horse dragged behind a car, a beheading and multiple arson attacks are associated with a Rastafarian sect’s reign of terror in Ruatoria from 1985 to 1990.

A TV drama series called Ashes and Prophets that centres on Ruatoria Rastas’ revenge for historical land theft is one of four projects selected for scripted series drama development.

NZ On Air and the New Zealand Film Commission have announced further development funding of $80,000 to each of four scripted series projects.

The partnership’s Raupapa Whakaari Drama to the World initiative aims to support writer/producer teams to develop high-end, scripted series drama with international and domestic appeal.

Behind Ashes and Prophets are Kath Akuhata-Brown, Greg McGee, Philippa Rennie, Robin Scholes and Lee Tamahori, some of who have strong East Coast connections.

“I grew up in Ruatoria during that period,” says former Gisborne Herald journalist Akuhata-Brown, who covered some of the troubles in Ruatoria from 1985.

McGee, Tamahori and Akuhata-Brown will storyline episodes before McGee and Akuhata-Brown write full episodes respectively.

Directed by Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Die Another Day), the TV series will cover the five-year period of terror that engulfed the East Coast town.

Some material for the series will be sourced from another former journalist with The Gisborne Herald, Angus Gillies.

In a self-published trilogy called Ngati Dread, Gillies wrote comprehensively about what is widely regarded as one of the most bizarre chapters in modern New Zealand history.

Akuhata-Brown and McGee are yet to begin writing the script for the drama series.

Their job will be to lift the story from history and represent it as drama.

This will require a lot of discussion with Ruatoria locals, says Akuhata-Brown.

“We have a strong sense of the world up there and close relationships with people — brothers, cousins, aunties, uncles — there.

“We’re approaching the script from a position of being deeply respectful of people’s emotions and experiences.

“Having a detailed chronology of actual events helps. In the scriptwriting process we’ll pin down the themes. We’ll get into a room together and hammer out the five-year period.

“We have to immerse ourselves in the characters. Character motivates action. That doesn’t mean we’re adapting a real story to the screen but there will be some reflection of the truth.

“Drama contributes to the greater narrative. It gives it a focused voice.”

A Raupapa Whakaari Drama to the World initiative is to give development funding of $80,000 for a writer/producer team to develop a TV drama series based on a Rastafarian sect’s reign of terror in Ruatoria in the mid 1980s. Multiple arson attacks during that five years included, after a period of quiet, the burning of a house occupied by a Rastafarian man, his wife and child, who managed to escape. Gisborne Herald file picture