General Roméo Dallaire changed my life. I hesitate to admit this because it suggests
hero-worship on my part—never a good relationship for a filmmaker to have with his
subject. Too much awe generally leads to shockingly bad films. Regardless, he did
change my life—not in a sentimental way, but very practically.
When I went to Rwanda in 2004 with Peter Raymont and General Dallaire to make
Shake Hands with the Devil, I had never been to Africa. Since then, I have returned
many times, making a number of films, including Triage; Tsepong; and The Team.
Before this, I was splitting my time between trying to finish a PhD in genocide studies,
and working on documentaries. After Shake Hands I left academia and focused on
filmmaking for one simple reason: I saw the impact a well-crafted film can have on an
audience. The power of the medium was undeniable, hitting people in their gut,
connecting with their heart, and engaging their mind.
That being said, I’ve never been interested in making activist films for an activist
audience. It’s rather easy—and to my mind, quite tedious—to prove a point to likeminded
individuals; it’s much more challenging and rewarding to help an audience lose
themselves in a story and in the process find themselves.
As Dallaire writes: “Instead of asking yourself, `What do I want to do with my life?’ ask,
`If I had one or two years to devote to something, what would that something be?’” My
answer in this case was a simple one: make this film.
Why? It’s a difficult subject that’s been done before (child soldiers)—and I’ve seen many
of the other films on the subject, and read many of the memoirs, often compelling. The
terrain may be well-trodden but it was only when I read Dallaire’s book on the subject,
and subsequently spent time with him discussing the project, that I saw the potential for
In many ways, it takes a solider to fully understand child soldiers; and it takes a man who
was once broken, such as Dallaire, to break new ground, to change the narrative, to
engage a new audience
– Over 250 000 child soldiers currently used in over 30 conflicts around the world
-“Fight Like Soldiers Die Like Children” African portion of shoot took place over four
weeks, spanning March-April 2012
– Our crew accompanied General Romeo Dallaire (ret’d) to two regions where child
soldiers are frequently used: the easternmost part of Democratic Republic of Congo
(ongoing regional conflict for nearly 20 years); and northern Democratic Republic of
Congo and western South Sudan, an area afflicted by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s
Resistance Army, or LRA.
– Dallaire visited this region because of the prevalence of child soldiers here; the fact that
his organization, the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, does on-the-ground
training for security sector actors in the region; and, most importantly, because of his
connection to the area dating back to 1994 when he was Force Commander for the UN
Mission in Rwanda. As the world turned away, Dallaire was forced to witness the
slaughter of over 800 000 Rwandans in less than 100 days.
– During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, many of the atrocities were committed by militia
forces, including many killers who were under the age of 18.
– Both the government forces and the rebels (Rwandan Patriotic Front)—who ultimately
liberated the country and ended the genocide—used child soldiers during the 1994
Rwandan civil war and genocide.
– The ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo is directly traced back to the end of the
Rwandan Genocide. Many of the perpetrators of the Genocide escaped across the
border, and have been attempting to overthrow the Rwandan government since. Most
active among this group are the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda).
The FDLR often uses child soldiers.
– A number of militia groups also operate in eastern DR Congo, typically using child
soldiers. According to many commentators, some of these militia forces operate as
proxy forces for the Rwandan government. Among these is M-23, a group that split from
the Congolese Army in open rebellion in April 2012. We were in Goma, DR Congo (the
largest city in eastern DRC) when this happened.
– One of the leaders of the M-23 is General Bosco Ntaganda. Since 2006, there has
been an International Criminal Court warrant out for his arrest, charging him with a
number of War Crimes, including using child soldiers. Bosco voluntarily surrendered on
18 March 2013, at the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. He asked to be transferred to the
ICC in The Hague, Netherlands
– Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony became a household name due to
the Kony 2012 campaign by US NGO Invisible Children. This video is most viral video of
all time with 100 million views in first 6 days.
– Kony and the LRA have been around for over 25 years. First in conflict with Ugandan
gov’t, struggling to split from Uganda and create a separate independent state. In more
recent years, the Ugandan military has pushed the LRA out of Uganda, and they’re
currently operating in northern DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic,
where most are based.
– It is estimated that Kony and LRA have used over 30 000 child soldiers throughout the
last 25 years
– Many believe bulk of LRA forces are hiding out in Central African Republic
– The African Union along with 100 US military advisers are operating in South Sudan
and Central African Republic (CAR) to track the LRA
– March 2013, the CAR government of President Bozize was overthrown by the CAR
military in a coup
– April 2013 African Union and US forces withdraw from CAR and put hunt for Kony on
hold. Kony remains at large