SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL directed by Roger Spottiswoode, written by Michael Donovan from the book by Roméo Dallaire, with Roy Dupius and Deborah Kara Unger. A Seville release. 119 minutes. Opens Friday (September 28). Rating: NN
"I'm sorry, you've got me on my hobby horse."
Roger Spottiswoode is, naturally, not on a hobby horse. He's on the patio at the Hotel Intercontinental, drinking overpriced coffee and smoking a cigarette, and he's" not angry, exactly, but vehement, about the world's failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda 13 years ago. We're talking during the Toronto International Film Festival, where he's promoting Shake Hands With The Devil, starring Roy Dupuis as Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, upon whose book the film is based.
"There are people in the [United Nations] who can do amazing things, real heroes. One of them is Dallaire," the director says. "These are very brave people, who protected 30,000 people; they could have saved the lives of a million. What was at fault was partly the UN in New York, especially the Security Council, which is made up of individual countries.
"It was up to us, people like me who did nothing, who didn't fax or e-mail anyone. We didn't get our governments to vote [to end the genocide]."
We're on the subject as Spottiswoode is answering a question about how he found a way into the story. He went from thinking "Rwanda's been done" to "This hasn't been done at all." What no other film had accomplished was to "sit on Dallaire's shoulder," as he puts it, and show the complete failure of the UN to protect either its peacekeepers or the innocents being slaughtered.
It was a difficult film to make, both from a logistical and psychological point of view. Shooting on site in Rwanda, where power outages are a daily feature, was not easy. Having native Rwandans play the parts of their dead countrymen was so traumatic that a psychologist was hired to help them cope. As for Dallaire, he found Dupuis's performance so convincing, he forgot it wasn't him up on the screen.
But Spottiswoode is quick to quash any notion that this is only Dallaire's story.
"This [film is about] all those countries that have diplomats who sit at the UN and vote the way their country tells them to vote. They decide whether the [peacekeepers] are allowed to defend themselves or fire a gun or protect the innocent.
"If we had been a little more engaged and told our governments that they should vote the right way, people at the UN could have done something about this. "
SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (Roger Spottiswoode) Rating: NN
Shake Hands With The Devil is another movie where white Western filmmakers use a Third World tragedy as a spur to moral anguish on the part of a white Westerner who gets to go home at the end. Until Canadians figure out that the white guy isn't the most important figure in Third World conflicts, I wish they'd stay home.
This is a dramatized version of Romo Dallaire's crise de conscience in the face of the Rwandan genocide, where, his hands tied by the UN, he confirmed the dictum that for evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing. Compare and contrast Shake Hands With The Devil with the drama and intensity of Hotel Rwanda or The Constant Gardener. There are great films to be made on this subject, but this isn't one of them.