This winter a Queen’s alumnus and Emmy Award winner will be teaching a film class at Queen’s.
Peter Raymont, ArtSci ’71, directed Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire. Along with another film about the genocide in Rwanda, God Sleeps in Rwanda, Raymont’s film was named best documentary at the 2007 News and Documentary Emmy Awards last week.
The film premiered in Sept. 2004 at the Toronto Film Festival and went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.
In January, Raymont will be teaching a class in documentary film production at Queen’s.
Raymont got his start in filmmaking when he made his first film as a politics and film student.
“I made a few films at Queen’s, and one of them got me a job at the National Film Board,” he said.
Have You Ever Been North of Princess Street was about people “on the other side of the tracks,” where many live in poverty.
“It was my attempt to politicize privileged Queen’s students to the inequities on their doorstep,” Raymont said.
He said he recalls spending hours in the editing room working on the film.
“I practically lived in that building,” he said. “It was a great place in the late ’60s when it started.”
The film department was just growing out of the English department when Raymont was a student. He said one of his professors, Peter Harcourt, was keen on having a filmmaking facility at Queen’s.
“I’m really glad … that Peter was there to be so inspiring,” he said. “He’s really responsible for me being a filmmaker and for me winning this Emmy.”
Since his days at Queen’s, Raymont has made more than one hundred films set in various locations worldwide, from Africa to the Arctic. In 1979, he started his own production company, White Pine Pictures, in Toronto.
Raymont first travelled to Rwanda in 1999 to make a documentary about a humanitarian organization from Toronto called The Hope for Rwanda’s Children Fund. There, he learned about Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian general who ran a United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.
“When I went on that first trip to Rwanda, I very quickly learned so much and realized that a film I should be making would be about General Dallaire,” Raymont said.
He said it took him years to get through to Dallaire.
“I’m very persistent—I tried to get through to him through the military, through his doctors, through his lawyer,” he said. “Eventually he decided to trust me, I guess. He wanted to go back to Rwanda, but … he had to see if he was ready psychologically.”
In early 2004, the government of Rwanda invited Dallaire to visit for the 10th anniversary of the genocide and Raymont accompanied him.
“We were only with him there for two weeks, but it was really, really intense,” Raymont said, adding that they worked from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
“I knew very little about Rwanda or the genocide; I was embarrassingly ignorant. I’d been watching the OJ Simpson trial when 800,000 people were killed.”
Raymont said it was an honour to be trusted with Dallaire’s story.
“He really risked his life by staying in Rwanda when he was ordered out, and saved tens of thousands of lives,” he said.
Dallaire’s novel about his experiences in Rwanda, also called Shake Hands with the Devil, was published in 2004.
Winning the Emmy was an emotional experience for Raymont, because he co-produced the film with his wife, Lindalee Tracey, who passed away last October after a five-year battle with breast cancer.
He said it was ironic to win the Emmy in front of a room full of important news executives.
“These are the people, in 1994, that decided that news about the genocide in Rwanda wasn’t worthy of being put before the people, that the OJ Simpson trial was where they would put their resources,” Raymont said.
In a way, he said, there’s a lot more attention now in the media to subjects like Darfur, but very little is being done about it.
“While some things have changed … I’m not sure that the UN has really changed on that level since Rwanda,” he said.
Raymont said he’s looking forward to teaching at Queen’s.
“I think it’ll be a nice change. It’ll be fun to meet students who are making their own films. Hopefully I can be helpful to them and give them a bit of something from my experience,” he said.
Right now Raymont is working on his first television drama, The Border, which follows an elite task force of police at the border between Canada and the US and will air on the CBC in January.
In early September, his film A Promise to the Dead, a documentary about writer Ariel Dorfman, who was part of the Socialist government in Chile when it was overthrown by Pinochet in 1973, opened at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Raymont said it’s easy, with the equipment available today, to get into filmmaking.
“The best way to learn is by doing it, right? You can pick up same basics, but I think you learn the most just by trying stuff,” he said. “The more films that people watch and learn about what happened, the better.”
Tsepong: A Clinic Called Hope, a film Raymont produced about an AIDS clinic in Lesotho, will be screened on Oct. 26 at the Health and Human Rights Conference at Queen’s.