TORONTO (CP) _ Quebec director Robert Favreau hopes that his new film "A Sunday in Kigali," and the several other recent screen dramas set against the 1994 Rwandan genocide, provoke interest in the tragedy and make us more aware that such a terrible thing can happen.
"Because when it happened in 1994 I was just not there," Favreau conceded in an interview Wednesday. "I didn’t open my mind, open my heart. If the film does that it’s something."
Based on the novel "A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali" by Quebec journalist Gil Courtemanche, Favreau’s film had its world premiere (outside of Quebec) at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. Luc Picard plays a Quebec documentary filmmaker who falls in love with a beautiful Rwandan hotel waitress, played by Senegalese actress Fatou N’Diaye, just as tribal rivalry erupts into a massacre that sees nearly one million Tutsis slain by Hutus. The $7 million film, shot entirely on location in Rwanda, creates the same ominous chill that pervaded "Hotel Rwanda," as a society suddenly crumbles before a flash-flood of mindless, murderous hatred.
It was a difficult shoot for Favreau, Picard and their Quebec crew of 30, not just because Rwanda has no local film industry infrastructure, but also because the emotional wounds are still fresh. So much so that the production had to have several psychologists on hand to help extras and bystanders cope with the horrific images that were being replicated so realistically on a movie set.
"There are women who take the bus each day to go to work and in that bus they may be in front of their rapist," Favreau said, noting that while justice tribunals are holding court throughout the country, there are some four million "murderers" and even Canada or the United States couldn’t possibly imprison that many people.
"They are confronted with what they lived each day. . . so I would say there is a lot, a lot, a lot of suffering in silence."
Picard, who plays the documentarian, said the people are very resilient but you can almost see the scars in their eyes. For the actor it was a very emotional experience to be standing in the very spots where people died.
"You can almost smell the genocide," he said. "I really felt in a place where something really terrible happened."
Picard’s character repeatedly postpones his departure from the country. He marries the waitress but has to leave before he can get her out, too. Months later, after the madness abates, he returns to the wartorn country in a desperate search for her. Canada’s Gen. Romeo Dallaire is portrayed briefly, as a United Nations soldier whose hands are frustratingly tied by orders not to intervene.
Favreau said he had great difficulty writing the scene because it takes place just before the massacre, before he saw all of its horrors.
"Before the genocide he was executing orders, probably with a bad conscience," he said. "At the middle of the genocide he changed. He saw too much."
Picard said he read Dallaire’s book "Shake Hands With the Devil" (which is also going to be made into a film drama) and has great respect for him.
"I felt that the novel was hard on him, so in the movie we really toned it down. It’s more respectful."
But Favreau sees the Belgians as bearing a lot of responsibility for what happened. As overseers of the former colony, he said, they created the racial divide between the Hutus and Tutsis by favouring the latter because they were tall and lean and looked more European than the Hutus.
"They felt in one way that they were more like us, so they decided to give them power, access to education and access to health care. And they created that kind of injustice."
With sub-titles, "A Sunday in Kigali" opens in Toronto on Sept. 22 and the rest of English Canada in October.