Shooting Dogs aka Beyond the Gates (2005) An Unspairing Look at the Genocide in Rwanda

What a shocking movie. Incredibly good but so sad. I have seen the outstanding Hotel Rwanda a few years back but Shooting Dogs, that is less flawless from a cinematographic point of view, is even better. It is a UK/German co-production starring German, British and African actors.

The story, that is based on true events, takes place in a school compound in 1994. A young British teacher (Hugh Dancy) and an elderly British priest, father Christopher, (John Hurt), are responsible for the school. It is a school to which as well Hutu as Tutsi children come. Early on arrives a troop of UN soldiers who also stay inside the school gates while outside the world as they know it falls apart.

The beginning of the movie is slow and shows with great detail the almost idyllic, if somewhat chaotic life in the city of Kigali, in Rwanda. The moment the Hutu president is killed, the situation changes drastically. The Hutu majority fears that the Tutsi minority wants to overthrow their government and be in charge of Rwanda again. Out of fear and wanting to control a situation that gets out of hands they start what can only be called a genocide. They systematically kill every Tutsi that they can find. To say they “kill” them is an understatement and gives the wrong impressions of the atrocities that happened in Rwanda. The people are not only killed, they are butchered with machetes. Old people, young people, men, women, children and even babies are literally chopped up.

The courageous priest opens up the gate and lets a few thousand Tutsi find refuge inside of the school gates. They are guarded by the UN who are only spectators in what becomes more and more atrocious. They have a very strict mandate which states that they are not allowed to intervene. They watch the butchery without doing anything. Only if they were shot at, would they be allowed to act. The commanding officer (Dominique Horwitz who has an outstanding role in Stalingrad) is helpless and ashamed but there is nothing he can do. The irony is, if the events would be called “genocide”, he would be free of his mandate and could intervene. But no one officially calls it a genocide.

In the beginning we do not see many of the horrible acts but towards the end the movie gets more and more graphic and I could feel the fear that these hordes must have instilled in those threatened by them. They seem so mindless. A mass of violent men, slaughtering, raping and butchering innocent people. And no one helped the Tutsi.

There is a scene that I found particularly profound in which a journalist, talking to the teacher, compares her reaction to the horrors in Bosnia with her reaction to those she sees here. She explains that she cried all the time in Bosnia when she saw dead people but that she was somewhat unfazed by the dead in Rwanda. The young teacher argues that she is probably numbed but she admits that it is more awful than that. “No,” she says. ” It is worse than that. I constantly think, they are only dead Africans.” This is such a shocking confession but how true. I wonder how often Europeans and Americans did think like that during the war. “It’s only Africans”.

When things get worse, the French Army sends soldiers to get the Europeans out of the compound and to the airport. The priest and the young teacher stay until the UN troops get the order to leave as well. At that moment the teacher leaves but father Christopher stays.

This movie is really highly watchable. It is sad and moving and the most touching is that the people who took part in the making, the people in charge of costumes and the settings, the electricians and carpenters, were all Rwandans who lost most of their familiy members in this genocide in which far over 800 000 people were killed.

This is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the 20th century. It should not be forgotten. There is no such thing as “only Africans”.

This movie saddened me a great deal and left me speechless for a long while.

2 thoughts on “Shooting Dogs aka Beyond the Gates (2005) An Unspairing Look at the Genocide in Rwanda

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Great review. It is absolutely shameful how America overlooked the genocide in Rwanda. It certainly appears to have been because of racism. Unfortunately, I doubt many Americans will see this movie, just as few saw “Hotel Rwanda”. However, because of films like this few is better than none. Thank you for pushing this film, you are respected and some will see it because of you.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I hope that some might watch it. Or Sometimes in April with Idris Elba that seems to be good as well but I didn’t get around seeing this. France and Germany are both always ineterested in the fate of the African continent and they publish a lot of books on the topic. Especially French authors choose it quite often. It seems more logical in the case of France as we have the colonial past and a shared official language in some countries. I’m not sure ift was only racism that kept the US from interventing… Just think of Somalia. That was very painful and gave us one of the best war movies ever.

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