Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire
Format: Digital Betacam Colour
Runtime: 90 min
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
White Pine Pictures,
Société Radio Canada
In the space of one hundred days in 1994, approximately eight hundred thousand people were brutally slaughtered in Rwanda as a result of the ongoing conflict among the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. Most were Tutsis, though many of the victims were moderate Hutus who refused to participate in the genocide. The horrific nature of this event was exacerbated by the outside world=s indifference toward it. As embassies were swiftly evacuated and multinational companies pulled up stakes, the only international presence that remained (and the only possible sanctuary) was a small United Nations force –but it was hamstrung by that organization=s inability or refusal to act.
The UN force’s leader was Canadian Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, who – despite suggestions that he depart as well – insisted on staying. After nearly a decade in silence, Dallaire recently addressed the events he witnessed in his book “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.” In early 2004, he returned to Rwanda for the first time since the genocide. That visit is the subject of acclaimed filmmaker Peter Raymont’s powerful documentary.
The film recounts the facts of the catastrophe in chilling detail. We hear about the woefully undermanned UN force and the conflicting agendas of the countries involved (many sought only to rescue their own citizens); the inexperience of the peacekeepers, who failed to recognize actual threats (brutal agitators were dismissed as Aclowns@); and the appalling lack of fortitude and foresight shown by the UN (Dallaire could have stopped much of the slaughter had he been permitted to attack a weapons depot).
Raymont interviews a string of diplomats and witnesses, including UN special envoy Stephen Lewis and BBC reporter Mark Doyle; the latter offers one of the most telling indictments when he says that news networks were more concerned with the ongoing O.J. Simpson case than about genocide in Africa. Ultimately, though, the focus is on Dallaire himself, still haunted by his inability to prevent the massacre. Many argue he is too hard on himself, but it is Dallaire=s refusal to cede responsibility which, even now, makes him so intriguing.
Named one of Canada=s Top Ten of 2004 by an independent, national panel of filmmakers, programmers, journalists and industry professionals and winner of the World Cinema Documentary award at the Sundance film festival, Shake Hands with the Devil is a study of one of the most horrifying incidents in recent memory, but it is also a portrait of heroism.