May 27, 2015


Movies

Lack of punch does disservice to doc's powerful premise

The use of child soldiers is reprehensible and an atrocity unto itself.

But fighting the use of child soldiers is a Herculean undertaking that may take a half a century to complete, and that's an optimistic estimate.

Senator Romeo Dallaire has made it his mission to expose and eradicate the use of child soldiers.

PETER BREGG / WHITE PINE PICTURES

Senator Romeo Dallaire has made it his mission to expose and eradicate the use of child soldiers.

Peter Bregg / White Pine Pictures
Former general Romeo Dallaire visits trouble spots in Africa.

CP

Peter Bregg / White Pine Pictures Former general Romeo Dallaire visits trouble spots in Africa.

That's the upshot of this documentary in which filmmaker Patrick Reed followed Canadian senator (and retired general) Romeo Dallaire back to the scene of a genocidal crime.

Rwanda is where Dallaire, as head of United Nations forces, could only look on helplessly when a million people were killed in that appalling internecine conflict, an experience recalled in the doc Shake Hands With the Devil.

Dallaire, who suffered a nervous breakdown after that experience, clearly sought a kind of atonement in launching a mission against child soldiers, first in writing the book They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, and now in his participation in this film.

One wishes the movie could be more powerful. Reed's cameras follow Dallaire on a wide-ranging walkabout in trouble spots such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or South Sudan, where he talks to a few child soldiers who escaped their service, as well as at least one warlord who cagily denies using child soldiers while UN intelligence suggests otherwise.

This focus leaches visceral impact from the overall film, which more closely resembles a politician touring the scene of a natural disaster than footage of the disaster itself. Reed tries to compensate with animated scenes depicting a first-person account of a child soldier, as written (in an admitted fictionalization) by Dallaire himself. It's not quite adequate.

In fact, the most eyebrow-raising scene has Dallaire addressing the ongoing debate about Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was the youngest inmate at Guantanamo Bay following his capture as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan at the age of 15. He has been a figure some controversy, but given his history of fundamentalist indoctrination, Dallaire cuts to the quick: "We aren't even recognizing that he had been a child soldier," he says.

Dallaire's authority, honesty and vision do contribute to the film's value in one respect: It succeeds in partially redeeming the reputation of the Canadian Senate.

We are assured there is at least one senator out to make a substantial difference in the world, as opposed to making a difference to his bank account.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 D3

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