TORONTO — Some innovative tag-teaming is giving major legs to the Canadian documentary “Shake Hands With the Devil.”
Pic, which follows the return to Rwanda of retired Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire a decade after a disastrous U.N. peacekeeping mission — in which he tried in vain to stop the genocide that cost more than 800,000 lives — has been a hit with audiences since it premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
Film has since been a regular on the festival circuit, most recently winning the audience prize for best foreign doc at Sundance, and has some high-profile proponents, including Sundance founder Robert Redford, who introduced the Sundance screening personally.
“It has two elements that help create a profile,” says Jan Rofekamp, prexy and CEO of Montreal-based Films Transit and the doc’s international sales agent: “one, an enormous amount of festival interest, and two, Romeo Dallaire.”
Charismatic, active, cooperative, driven and well-connected with the international community, Dallaire is a promoter’s dream. The Banff World Television Festival has announced Dallaire will be this year’s keynote speaker. He is also author of the award-winning memoir of the same title.
The timing for the documentary’s release could not have been better. Also sharing a Toronto premiere was “Hotel Rwanda,” which earned Oscar noms for lead thesp Don Cheadle and co-star Sophie Okonedo; that plus the documentary and memoir have piqued renewed international general interest in the Rwanda tragedy.
“People really do seem to want to know what the hell happened in Rwanda,” says “Shake Hands” producer-director Peter Raymont.
U.S. theatrical, video and DVD rights holders California Newsreel describes “Shake Hands” as “the in-depth story behind ‘Hotel Rwanda.’ ” (No comment or complaint that the Canadian military U.N. representative in “Hotel Rwanda,” played by Nick Nolte, is inept, drunk and of a lesser rank than Dallaire.)
Part of Rofekamp’s strategy is to follow the trail of the film and book. Working with “Hotel Rwanda” distributor Lions Gate, he approaches those who’ve bought the film, first offering DVD rights as a bonus to be packaged with “Hotel Rwanda,” and then pursuing TV and feature deals.
International TV sales so far include the BBC, Japan’s NHK, Finland, the Netherlands and France’s NK2.
In Italy, the distrib has inked a theatrical, DVD and TV deal with Mikado Film, one of the “Hotel Rwanda” co-producers.
In the U.S., “Shake Hands” is being released theatrically in May, beginning with a two-week run at Film Forum in New York and moving on to Boston, Washington, L.A., San Diego, San Francisco and Berkeley.