MORE THAN A DECADE after witnessing genocide as the commander of a neglected UN force in Rwanda, Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire now has to endure the indignity of seeing himself loosely portrayed—very loosely—by a shambling Nick Nolte in Hotel Rwanda. Like other veterans of African disasters, he’s also distressed by the discrepancy between the tsunami relief and aid for crises in Rwanda and Darfur. This week, Dallaire visits the Sundance Film Festival as the subject of Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, a documentary based on his bestselling book (it airs on CBC Jan. 31).
When you see the massive public support for tsunami victims, does it make you wonder where it was during the Rwandan genocide?
The first gut reaction is exactly that. I felt it even in a more nasty fashion with 9/11,
where there were only 3,000 dead. I take great heart in the human participation in such an outpouring—there’s the sense that people do count. However, where I have difficulty is that governmental structures, and
the media, react more to a natural disaster than a man-made disaster like in the Sudan, where there are as many, if not more, people suffering and dying. A natural disaster calls out the best in everybody, but one created by humans seems to keep people aloof.
Why do you think that is?
It’s risk aversion and the permutations of the diplomatic/political enjeux [stakes].
Nick Nolte is getting a lot of flak for his preposterous rendition of you in Hotel Rwanda. Have you seen the movie yet?
No. I’ve been given a DVD, I’ll have to see it before Sundance. It sounds like Mr. Nolte did a fine job of playing himself. If they’re going to have someone play me and they know I’m alive and kicking, they should have at least touched base. Mr. Nolte never talked to me. Nobody from the film did. I feel slighted by that. And the fact he portrays a freewheeling, drinking type of guy is so foreign to the reality. When we were there, we weren’t involved with booze, I’ll tell you.
The hero of Hotel Rwanda is a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, who’s not even mentioned by name in your book.
It seems the filmmakers downplayed the eight UN observers who protected people in the hotel. They did a lot of the saving. The manager was there, and I was aware of him, but that’s it. I remember he was helpful.
Tell me about the feature film that’s being made based on your book.
Michael Donovan, who did Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, is producing it, and Yves Simoneau, who did the TV miniseries Nuremberg, is directing. I’ve said if there are individual stories that can be pulled out, go for it. You don’t have to show the gore in its extreme. If you do too much of that there’s revulsion, people simply avoid the subject.
Is there a danger in dramatizing genocide, in creating entertainment from it?
My overriding concern is, if we can keep the Rwandan genocide alive in the minds of the developed world, I consider that positive.
What can we learn from it?
That normal humans can be transformed by the power of a corrupt philosophy, and by fear. BRIAN D. JOHNSON
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