Monday, August 6, 2018

Gen. Romeo Dallaire

Romeo Dallaire, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

THE STORY OF ROMEO DALLAIRE IS ONE THAT'S WORTH RECALLING whenever anyone parrots the phrase "Never Again" when it comes to genocide and crimes against humanity. Because there have been plenty of Agains since the Holocaust inspired this phrase, and Dallaire was a witness to one of them, in Rwanda, barely twenty-five years ago.

I photographed Dallaire with Roy Dupuis, the Quebecois actor who played him in Shake Hands With The Devil, a film about the tragic UN mission to Rwanda that Dallaire commanded, and which failed to prevent the murder of 800,000 Rwandans at the hands of their fellow countrymen. The film was based on Dallaire's own book, which had in turn already inspired a documentary film, and at this point in his life Dallaire was on a mission to explain just what had happened, in a (mostly vain, in my opinion) attempt to prevent such a thing from happening again.

Roy Dupuis & Romeo Dallaire, Toronto, Sept. 10, 2007

The story isn't terribly complicated: Dallaire was sent to Central Africa to try to head off what everyone knew was a potential massacre of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by its Hutu majority, then in political control of the country. His mission was hamstrung by the usual rules of engagement by which most UN "peacekeeping" engagements are run, and ended miserably, though Dallaire and his staff were able to save at least 32,000 people from being slaughtered.

It was obvious that Dallaire was left with crushing regret in the wake of his command, and seven years before I photographed him he had attempted suicide with alcohol and an overdose of anti-depressant medication. I did my shoot with him and Dupuis in the courtyard restaurant of the Intercontinental on Bloor, and hoped that my shooting style - get up close, focus on the eyes, linger long enough within the subject's personal space - would capture some of the discipline and intensity that Dallaire projected.

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