Behind the scenes – Shake hands with the devil

Following on from this post, I contacted Zimbabwe based Frontline Club member Robert Adams through the Frontline network. I wanted to ask him about the filming of the behind the scenes documentary that will accompany the film based on Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire’s book, Shake hands with the devil, about the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Where was the Shake hands with the devil shot?

Shake hands with the devil was shot between July and August 2006 in Rwanda. It’s not the first movie to be made about the Genocide, but it is the first mainstream film to be shot in Rwanda, using mostly Rwandan extras.
The movie’s main target is the United Nations in New York, and the narrative dynamic is Dallaire’s refusal to withdraw from Rwanda after the Genocide started, and his determined efforts to protect as many civilians as he and his men could. The villains of the piece (apart, obviously, from the genocidaires) are the cowardly, dissembling bureaucrats in New York, and their international masters, who ducked and dived and tried to avoid the issue as 800,000 died. Kofi Annan, who was Head of Peacekeeping, comes out pretty badly. The good guys are Dallaire and his motley force of Bangladeshis, Ghanaians, Canadians, Poles and the rest, who saved tens of thousands of lives by protecting the stadium as best they could; and the RPF, under Paul Kagame.
That said it is, by “movie standards” a politically astute and subtle story, which attempts to show the greys as well as the black and white.

You mention on your blog, you think the film will be really good, I guess you haven’t you seen it yet?

I haven’t seen it, though the extended trailer on the official website gives a pretty good idea of what it will look like. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple of weeks ago, and had a Gala showing at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax after that. It is now on cinema release in Canada, and the distributors are negotiating a wider release. The lead actor, Roy Dupuis, is a French Canadian; he is uncannily like General Dallaire.
Deborah Kara Unger (“Crash“, “The Game“, “Silent Hill“) plays Emma, a television journalist who stays on in Kigali and who Dallaire uses as his conduit to the outside world. She took her (albeit quite small) role extremely seriously, and was really keen to use her part to honour those of our profession who see it as their duty to open a window on the world’s horrors when those in power would like us to close the curtains and turn our backs.
There was a tremendous attention to detail by the art department, which extended to them (for instance) finding the original Armoured Personnel Carriers that the UN had used, abandoned in a barracks out beyond the airport, and refurbishing them and using them in the movie. The uniforms are perfect. The look of the film is uncannily accurate – in fact much of the action sequences look almost like news footage. We shot scenes where they actually happened – the killing of Madame Agathe Uwiligiyimana, the moderate Hutu Prime Minister who appealed for calm and was one of the first to be murdered, was filmed in the house where it happened – somewhat to the surprise of the Australian NGO family who now live there! As far as possible, the film is a document of the facts.

I presume Roméo Dallaire was involved in the making. Were Rwandan survivors involved also and if so, how? Do you know what their reaction to the film has been?

Dallaire was centrally involved. He saw the script, spent a lot of time before shooting started with Roy Dupuis, and was in constant consultation with the Producers. He wasn’t allowed to come out to Rwanda during the shooting, as he is a witness at the Rwanda war crimes tribunal. But the Press Liaison Officer who was with him in Kigali throughout the genocide, Major Jean-Guy Plante, was on set throughout the filming, and was vital to establishing the accuracy of the film.
Dallaire lent the production a sculpture that was on his office desk throughout the horrors of the hundred days. It was used on set.
We had close to 4,000 Rwanda extras on the books, and of course many of them were genocide survivors. some, of course, were possibly genocidaires, though no one admitted to this… The producers actually hired a Rwandan Psychiatrist to be on set most of the time, to help people for whom it was all too much. We shot one scene in a church, the scene of a massacre, which was particularly telling. There were a couple of hundred extremely accurately made latex prosthetic bodies – hacked about, limbs off, heads severed, you know, distributed about the church. Then they brought in another three hundred extras, dressed and made up to look like the rest of the victims. As they filed in, in batches of twenty five, to be arranged around the church by the art director, you could tell the survivors by the look in their eyes as they walked through the bodies. Very haunting.
There were many of these kind of encounters. Two of the central characters in my documentary are a pair of young men, Tutsis, who survived the hundred days hiding out in the ruins while their neighbours and families were butchered around them. They are now in the Kigali karate club. The KKC was approached to provide strong, fit young men to play the interehamwe militia. I spent a lot of time talking to these guys about what it was like to be dressed in paramilitary uniforms, drenched in blood, wielding machetes against people looking exactly like the friends and neighbours they watched being killed fifteen years ago.

Can you tell us a little bit about the behind the scenes documentary you worked on. Is this purely a technical film about the actors, the difficulties in filming etc. Or do you talk to the people the film is about? Basically what scenes behind the film are you focussing on?

Well, to be honest I’m not sure yet! I was hired to make a relatively complex film about the process of making a genocide movie on the scene of the genocide, involving people who had taken part in the genocide. My brief was to make a documentary that would be more then the usual EPK puff-piece – though of course I shot for that, too. But until I see the cut, I won’t actually know what they’ve made of my material. There’s a DVD on the way – they say; if it’s as good as I think it might have been, i’ll certainly try to get it released for a showing at the club. It would be interesting, perhaps, to show the doc and the movie at the same time. I think the doc had a showing on the US cable channel Movie Central around the time of the TIFF premiere. And it will be included in the box when the movie is released on DVD. As soon as I know, you’ll know too!

How long did it take – filming? editing? etc.?

The movie was shot over two months in Rwanda, and another couple of weeks in Canada. I was on set in Rwanda for six weeks in June and July. The editing has been slow, as Spottiswoode went straight from Rwanda to China for another film, so couldn’t start the edit till Easter.

We’ve had a large number of films about the Rwandan genocide – most notably Hotel Rwanda, Shooting dogs and Do Scars Ever Fade? How does this film differ?

Look, this is very much the movie of Dallaire’s book, so in that sense the focus is slightly different to other Rwanda movies. But it is the biggest budget movie to have been shot in Rwanda, so it had more extras, more SFX, more skills and talent – I think there were over a hundred mostly Canadian cast and crew on set, and they brought with them a big-budget ethos and skillset. I think the production budget came in at around 15 million dollars, which is not blockbuster standard, but is pretty big for a movie set in Africa.
Spottiswoode is of course a very experienced director (he made “Under Fire“, with Nick Nolte, and the Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies“,) so he has exactingly high standards. There were two producers; Laszlo Barna, maker of “Da Vinci’s Inquest“, and whose family were killed in the Nazi Holocaust and so has a deep passion and anger about the world’s tolerance of the Rwanda genocide. And Michael Donovan, who produced, and won an Oscar for, “Bowling for Columbine“. Both very serious players, and both prepared to go to the wall (Michael is rumoured to have mortgaged his house to get the movie finished) for the film.

Anything you would like to add?

This was a fantastic experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve been on a movie set, and that itself was a revelation, and in profound contrast to the way many of us in our end of the industry make films. I was very lucky to have a very broad brief; I was making the behind the scenes, but I was also on call as a kind of “Africa expert”, and a “war-and-genocide advisor”, so everyone needed to have a chat at some point. And because (I suspect) it was a Canadian production, there was very little of the “us-and-them” nonsense. I could have breakfast with the Producer, lunch with grips, dinner with the director, and then go out drinking with the actors, and was made as welcome by all as by any. So it was a wonderful, deep-immersion introduction to the business and process of making a movie. That was a great privilege.
JVC lent us one of their HD -100 HDV cameras for my to use. I loved it – in fact, I thought it so good I have now bought one for myself, and use it is my main camera. It feels exactly right on the shoulder for an old vet like me who grew up on AP 400 Betacams, yet it is a third of the weight, twice as good image quality, and a tenth of the price. How good is that?! I’ve used the Z1 series Sonys, which are good cameras for sure, but feel like a handicam to me. The JVC HD series feel like a proper camera, with all the buttons in the right places, and a good, changeable lens. I’ll do a review for the [Frontline Club] newsletter soon.
And then there’s Rwanda. My God, what a wonderful little country. Ravishing landscapes, wonderful, people, determined never to let the nightmare return, and a sense of determination and drive that puts my own home country, Zimbabwe, to shame. I hope we never have to go back there to cover the news. But I would urge anyone looking for an African holiday destination to consider Rwanda.
One of the great, and unexpected pleasures of working on this movie was watching how the cast and crew, almost without exception, fell in love with Rwanda. In fact there was a young grip who basically gave up two weeks of leave and pretty much all the money he had earned on the film, to completely renovate an orphanage outside Kigali. He got the grips and the gaffers and the art department involved, and had them out at this orphanage on their days off, rewiring, re-plumbing, and painting and fixing and generally making good. That’s how involved people got.