As a concept, Romeo Dallaire is everywhere: he's a book, a television documentary, a feature film, a novel -- even a video game. Last week he was at the Sundance Film Festival, tonight Peter Raymont's documentary, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, which won the audience award for world cinema documentary at Sundance, airs at 9 p.m. on the CBC's The Passionate Eye.
When I caught up with Dallaire, he was between speaking engagements in North Bay, Ont., and Sudbury on a stopover on his way back to Harvard where he is a Carr Fellow for Human Rights Policy. From there he's setting off on a book tour to promote the American edition of his award-winning memoirs, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.
He's exhausted and yet invigorated by the response he's getting, particularly from high school and university students. "It reminds me of how we were in the 1960s," he says, "and wanting to do something more than just keep the system and ourselves going."
The once private man has gone very public about his suffering and his guilt as head of the failed United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Rwanda. Since the spring of 1994 when he lived through the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis he's been to hell and back more times than most of us go on vacation.
Although he tries, with medication and therapy, to control the demons that assault his memory , he will probably be haunted for the rest of his life. Anything, including displays of luscious fruit and vegetables in his local grocery store, can bring back the images and stench of horribly mangled corpses rotting among the tropical fruit in the marketplaces in Kigali.
He doesn't want anybody to forget what happened there and he's hoping that if he keeps writing and speaking about the atrocities the world will be more attuned to human rights abuses in other non-Western areas. Still, doesn't he feel like a movie star after Sundance, where Robert Redford, no less, asked to meet with him privately before personally introducing the film at a packed screening?
"I heard beforehand that he was interested in speaking to me and I found that magnificent as I knew he was involved in social concerns, so we talked about some of the stuff he does and what I do for about 20 minutes. He is a very self-effacing gentleman," Dallaire said.
Redford, apparently, was delighted to learn that Dallaire loves his 1985 film, Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep as the Danish writer Isak Dinesen, because of the music, the scenery and the love story.
Dallaire was "overjoyed" by the standing ovation from the audience and so was filmmaker Raymont. "It was awesome, [that Redford]brought his star status to the film and to the general and to the cause," Raymont said after getting off a plane from Park City, Utah. Obviously, Raymont wants a fuss made over his film -- he spent five years acquiring the rights and persuading Dallaire to participate -- but he too has become a proselytizer about the Rwandan genocide. "The idea is to reach as many people as possible," Raymont said. "That is his mission. He's devoted his life to it, but many people are doing things in their own way."
Essentially, the film picks up where the book ends. In the opening sequence we see Dallaire and his wife Elizabeth on the plane flying to Rwanda to attend the ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the massacre last spring. He seems restless, his piercing blue eyes darting as though he were already on patrol and seeking out danger. He always wanted to go back, but this journey is an affront to nostalgia because the stops on his itinerary are the ramshackle headquarters from which he sent his plaintive and then demanding faxes to his UN bosses, the killing sites now turned into shrines, a conference into the causes of the genocide, and meetings, planned and impromptu, with survivors and the families of victims.