What compels a person to investigate the most evil sides of inhumanity? What could possibly be gained from studying the horrors of genocide, the brutalities of war and the indifference of man to all that is good and hopeful? I had the opportunity to ask Patrick Reed, director and producer of Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children of his experience filming LGen. Roméo Dallaire’s return to Rwanda after Dallaire’s posting as the UN Force Commander during the genocide in 1993, and gained some valuable insights.
What compelled you to do your PHD studies in genocide?
I’ve always subscribed to the maxim: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And, in danger of sounding pretentious, insights into the human condition are often gleaned by studying humanity in moments of greatest crisis, such as genocide. How do we get there; how do we respond, either as outsiders or participants; what do we learn; how do we rebuild; and so on.
What were your reactions/emotions like as you took on studying such a horrible subject area?
Of course, you can’t help but be disturbed or shaken by some of the subject matter. But again, it also offers incredible lessons, and insights. And one studies these dark moments in time—or at least I did—not to sit in judgment or to arrogantly think you can find a simple solution to solve the next one, but to honor the past, and engage with the present and the future.
How did this compare with being in the real life situation when you were in Africa with Romeo Dallaire?
I ended up leaving academia and solely focusing on filmmaking when I saw first-hand the impact that a well-crafted film can have on an audience. The power of the medium was undeniable, hitting people in the gut, connecting with their heart, and engaging their mind.
You're so caught up in the process of the filming that it's possible to maintain some degree of distance even during the most difficult moments.
Ultimately, though, you have to keep it in perspective. You're only visiting these places. You come from a position of extreme privilege and will be returning to your families and relatively comfortable existence in Toronto.
To hear the stories and spend time with genocide survivors in Rwanda, or rape victims in Congo, or child soldiers in South Sudan, is on the one hand difficult, but on the other hand it's an incredible privilege. These people are sharing some of their most intimate details with you, and trust you to tell their story with honesty and dignity.
It's a rare opportunity and a real responsibility, to be embraced rather than avoided.
Do you think Dallaire found any closure after he returned to Africa?
Do you think he ever will? How/when?
It’s hard for me to speculate about this, since it’s really a question for Dallaire.
However, it is public knowledge that the experience of witnessing the 1994 Rwandan genocide while the outside world turned a blind eye continues to haunt Dallaire.
Returning to Africa has, in some ways, given Dallaire a new perspective on things, and has allowed him to focus more on the present and future, rather than be trapped in the past.
Regardless, the memories and scars will always be there.
There is an excessive emphasis in Western culture on healing—whether physical or psychic—on overcoming and moving on. What’s fascinating to me about Dallaire—among others—is he consciously struggles with the most painful memories and addresses the most difficult realities not to lessen their burden but to share it with others, compelling us to see the world in a different way. He lives honestly, with as little fear as possible and challenges us to do the same.
What draws you to Africa again and again and again? Where would you like your next adventure to take you?
I’ve had the pleasure and challenge of making a number of films in various parts of Africa, travelling to Somalia; Lesotho; Democratic Republic of Congo; Rwanda; Malawi; Kenya, and so on.
These films—including “Shake Hands with the Devil,” and “Triage,” both with Peter Raymont of White Pine Pictures in Toronto, Canada—were neither easy to make, nor easy to watch.
Media representations of child soldiers in the African context often feed into “Dark Continent” stereotype: a place where life is nasty, brutish and short; where barbarism is the norm; where people are so debased that they sacrifice their young. This is an extremely limited and limiting story, that’s as horrific as it is repetitive.
In this telling, Western audience sits in smug judgment. It may be uncomfortable viewing at times, but it is ultimately reassuring—it reassures their position of superiority in the world; reaffirms their stereotypes; at best, they feel pity, but never do they see themselves in the story.
The point of this film was to tell a compelling story that’s immersive, that’s transformational for the viewer, that’s unsettling in all the right ways. Namely, your mind—as viewer—changes and changes again as you watch; you are attracted and leave fascinated by the story and subject matter not because of the horror but because of the complexity.
Where to next? Not sure, to be honest. But I’m not much of a planner in general, so that’s nothing new.
In the last blog I shared a bit about former child soldier Michel Chikwanine. Thought you may like to hear it in his own words. Again, a sad story, but proof of the resilience of the human heart. Check it out here.