By Sherrie Li
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L.A. WEEKLY: To state the obvious, you’re not exactly a typical film-festival guest. What has it been like for you to be out on the road, sharing this film with audiences who may or may not be familiar with the story?
ROMÉO DALLAIRE: It’s one of the great surprises that I’ve found. It’s as if people are saying to themselves after seeing it, "Where was I 10 years ago, and how did that sort of pass under the rug?" What I’m finding is that not only are people interested in the film, but they seem keen on knowing more. The questions are pertinent — they’re not flaky. People have excellent questions on a subject that is not simple tribalism, but a very complex situation of power, money and ethnicity.
In the book and the film, you’re openly critical of England, France and America for their complicity, by way of inaction, in what occurred in Rwanda.
You must look at all the factors that dominated at the time. When the Americans pulled out of Mogadishu because of the 18 soldiers who were killed there, it made everyone else gun-shy. The U.N. and every country that could provide peacekeeping troops became frightened of having casualties in countries that don’t really count strategically. Their own survival as political structures were at risk. That dominated the scenario at the time, and, beyond that, there were 16 other missions going on that were far more significant to the Western world. Like Yugoslavia.
You use the word "strategic." Do you think that there exists such a thing as pure humanism in the world, or is it always couched in this idea of strategy and domestic interests?
The middle powers have been so silent and so ineffective in offering options to the big powers, which are the ones far more conscious of the grander strategic scenario, because they can influence it a lot more. But just as the big powers put these conflicts into their "strategic" context — which is to say, low priority and high risk — the middle powers, using the instrument of the U.N. or the G8 or the E.U., have not really shown their hand in this era. They really haven’t. That’s where we’ve been deprived of a certain flexibility in terms of responding to humanitarian crises. I find it absolutely horrific that nations like mine [Canada] can produce some fine ideas and talk a great talk, but put absolutely no resources of any consequence behind them in order to implement them. We’ll complain about the situation in which we find ourselves because of some draconian decisions by big powers who looked at the problem from their strategic perspective, and yet have we haven’t offered those big powers other options.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the Rwandan genocide is how much of a study it is in the power of media — from the local radio that helped to incite the violence to the international news outlets that largely turned a blind eye. Which begs the question: 10 years on, is the media appreciably more sensitive to those events unfolding in the world right now that could potentially be the next Rwandas?
I think that the capabilities of being there and getting the information out have improved, and the determination of the people in the field has also improved. They’re more aggressive and more searching. Where I think there has been absolutely no significant improvement is in the fact that the editors, the bureau chiefs, are still determining what’s significant and what’s not significant according to where they are and what they see. So I believe you will still have a scenario like Rwanda, where Tonya Harding kneecapping her friend and the O.J. Simpson trial take precedence over the genocide that’s happening at the same time. How is it that the Congo is barely touched upon, though millions have been slaughtered there? And what’s going on in Darfur. Yet we see such an incredible outpouring for natural disasters like the tsunami?
I also think the jury is very much out on embedding journalists with troops. I think journalists absolutely have to be everywhere and be able to report the whole story as best they can, but I don’t necessarily agree that it’s best for them to be embedded with the troops. I don’t see how that achieves the aim. Of course, reporters’ security has to be part of the equation, but they shouldn’t get themselves locked into something like that.
You mentioned that you’re now doing your own research into matters of international-conflict resolution.
What I’m trying to articulate is that we need a whole new conceptual base to conflict resolution. We’re fiddling with old methods of nation states and cold-war instruments to try to solve far more complex and far more demanding scenarios. As long as we keep toying with those antiquated notions of diplomacy, humanitarianism and neutrality, we’ll continue to miss the mark.Sometimes in April premieresSaturday,March19,onHBO,withmanyrepeatbroadcaststofollow. ThoughitisstillseekingaU.S.theatricaldistributor,Shake Hands With the Devil has just been released on DVD in Canada and can be purchased ( for about $25) throughwww.amazon.ca. Gacaca: Living Together Again in Rwanda? andIn Rwanda We Say . . . The Family That Does Not Speak Dies are available for purchase through First Run/Icarus Films atwww.frif.com.
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