Director Patrick Reed learned that travelling with retired Canadian lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire is a surreal experience, even by the Wild West standards of the border crossings shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“He’s met by some UN peacekeepers from India, and there’s one guy in the back of this open-air truck that’s got a 50-millimetre gun on the back and he’s holding this quaint sign that says, ‘Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire,’ ” Reed recounted in a telephone interview from Toronto. “It was like going to the airport and seeing the limo driver waiting to receive you with a 50-millimetre gun.”
Dallaire, who led the United Nations’ mission in Rwanda through the 1994 genocide, was travelling the region for the film adaption of his 2010 book, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, which plays at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival on Saturday (May 11) at the Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street) at 7 p.m.
In the film, Reed follows Dallaire on a journey to learn more about how child soldiers are recruited, deployed, and rehabilitated. It was shot during a one-month period in early 2012 that saw the group travel from Rwanda to east and northern DRC, Uganda, and South Sudan. As noted by Dallaire in the film, there are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers active around the world, with a significant portion of them fighting in Africa.
Reed recalled how the trip was a psychologically difficult one for Dallaire, given what he experienced during the genocide. Despite having produced films across Africa on difficult subjects, Reed said he found it an emotional experience.
“I have three kids of my own and the oldest one is now seven years old,” Reed said, noting that some of the child soldiers who made it into the film didn’t appear much more grown up than that.
Reed explained that while interviewing teenage combatants, he also found himself asking what he would do if placed in the context of their lives and the complicated situations faced by fighters’ families. “That’s not to justify what’s going on,” he added. “It’s to get beyond the simple judgement that the West often has when they look at these problems.”
They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children is one of several DOXA films focusing on the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa.
On a lighter note, Sweet Dreams (also May 11, at the Vancity Theatre [1181 Seymour Street] at 2:45 p.m.) tells the empowering story of a women’s drum troupe on a mission to bring Rwanda its first ice-cream shop. There are challenges on the path to culinary history, it turns out. But the women get there, stirring up an enjoyable story along the way.
And serving as a timely contribution is God Loves Uganda (May 11, Vancity, noon). Roughly a year after “Kony2012” rocked YouTube charts and left many with the impression that East Africa is under siege, God Loves Uganda reminds viewers that foreign aid comes in many forms and that good intentions are not always in everybody’s best interest.
They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children screens at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday (May 11) at the Cinematheque. Sweet Dreams screens at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday at the Vancity Theatre. God Loves Uganda screens at noon on Saturday at the Vancity Theatre.