Political Film Society - Newsletter #275 - March 23, 2007
 



March 23, 2007


 
BEYOND THE GATES IDENTIFIES NEW CULPRITS & HEROES OF THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE
Beyond the GatesHotel Rwanda (2004) depicts an important hero in the Rwandan genocide. Beyond the Gates provides another look at the tragedy, one that may remind filmviewers that something can be done today in Darfur. On April 11, 1994, some 250 Rwandans died at École Technique Officielle. The film Beyond the Gates, directed by Political Film Society awardwinner Michael Caton-Jones (for the 1989 film Scandal), depicts the actual events from April 5 at that very school in Rwanda, with several survivors of the massacre as employees. April 5 is presented as a normal day, introducing the principal characters, schoolmaster Father Christopher (played by John Hurt), his young Peace Corps-type volunteer Joe Connor (played by Hugh Dancy), the fastest female runner among the students Marie (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), the head of the UN mission, Captain Delon (played by Dominique Horwitz), and several others. The UN has posted a small contingent at the school as part of its mandate to observe a ceasefire recently negotiated between the majority Hutu government and the Tutsi rebels. However, government officials are depicted as taking a census of Tutsis, as if to suggest that something ominous is in store. On April 6, the Hutu president of Rwanda is killed when his airplane is shot down, whereupon the government announces that Tutsis are responsible. If the president is not safe, according to Rwanda Radio, then no Hutu is safe. Since the Hutu army is too small to retaliate against all Tutsis, the government radio orders ordinary civilians to use their machetes to slaughter Tutsis. The gated school, attended primarily by Tutsis, thus becomes a sanctuary, with Hutus lurking outside, armed with machetes to hack to death any Tutsis who might venture outside. Indeed, when Father Christopher and Joe drive outside on missions of mercy, they observe dead bodies littering the road.

Joe decides to summon a BBC journalist so that the world can learn of the events and perhaps react quickly; Rachel (played by Nicola Walker) then joins him at the school. But in time the food is destined to run out. Meanwhile, the Rwandan premier is also assassinated; his ten Belgian UN bodyguards are captured and later reported dead. Therefore, the UN contingent is no longer safe. The British title of the film, Shooting Dogs, is explained at one point when dogs appear to feed on the human corpses outside the school; after Delon proposes to shoot them, Father Christopher asks in a moment of bitter irony whether the dogs had shot first, as the UN rules of engagement are to observer and only to shoot when attacked. Soon, France sends a Foreign Legion contingent to rescue all the Europeans who have fled to the school for safety; Rachel, who professes not to empathize as much as she did with victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, leaves with the other Europeans, but Father Christopher and Joe stay. Later, the Belgian peace observers are ordered by the UN to evacuate; Joe goes along, but Father Christopher feels that he will never find his soul again after a lifetime of Christian service in Rwanda. A portion of the film features an unidentified woman parsing the words “acts of genocide” as if genocide itself were not taking place; the woman, of course, is speaking in a State Department briefing as an apologist for inaction by President Clinton while Americans are instead watching the trial of O.J. Simpson. In any case, the Rwandans are then left to their fate after Father Christopher has provided a Christian interpretation of events that are otherwise inexplicable to those whose beliefs are shattered by the horrors. The film provides a postscript five years afterward, with two survivors meeting each other. Titles at the end fill in some of the historical details, but not the inference from the April 5 census that the Rwandan president’s airplane was shot down by Hutus who opposed the UN-brokered peace and thus sought a pretext for the subsequent genocide. Beyond the Gates serves as an exposé deserving of a nomination by the Political Film Society for an award. The film is also nominated for an award as best film on human rights of 2007. MH