Friday, November 16, 2012

"Shooting Dogs": intense British film about a massacre in Rwanda

“The opposite of faith is not heresy, but indifference”, a quote from Elie Weisel.

That quote appears in the closing credits of “Shooting Dogs”, retitled “Beyond the Gates” in the US, a 2005 film by Michael Caton-Jones, about the genocide in Rwanda of the Tutsi by the Hutu.

The Tutsi had been sheltered in a Catholic church-run school (“L’ecole technique officielle), run by priest Christopher (John Hurt) and a young English teacher Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy).  The history behind the film is an April 1994 incident where the UN abandoned protecting the school and it was overrun by the Hutu. There is a scene where a UN commander is challenged to do something, and he hides behind formal international legalities.

When the school is to be overrun, both Christopher and Joe have to make decisions about how far their personal courage goes, or at least how they show it.  Despite doing everything possible to help the mothers and babies, Joe, at the last moment, decides to leave.  Christopher will stay and give his own life in helping the last few women escape on foot.

In the epilogue of the film, Joe is shown conducting a church choir (performing some a cappella Vaughn Williams) in Britain five years later (still looking unscathed and about 25).  One of the young women who escaped confronts him. She talks about how Christopher had looks at making sacrifice as part of accepting the love of God. Then she asks, “Why did you leave us?” Joe hesitates and says, “I was afraid to die.” She says they were both fortunate and must use their time in the rest of their lives wisely.

I did go through the Vietnam era draft, and escaped (because of my level of education) deployment overseas.  Because I had already experienced being physically “inadequate” as a boy, the idea of “sacrifice” was abhorrent to me.  If I had gone and been maimed, I did not want to come back.  To me, sacrifice was just that, and Grace did not mean anyone should try to make it all right – even for the hereafter.  Some people may see this as cowardice, or as a copout.  I just don’t like the idea of trying to make people love you after something like this has happened.

The film has a Blogger entry here

The BBC film was distributed by IFC.  20th Century Fox processed  the DVD, and cropped the 2.35:1 aspect ratio back to 1.85:1.  There is an extensive “Making Of” featurette. It explains how the "West"  (colonialism and mercantilism) set up the circumstances that let this genocide happen.

The film can be compared to the better known “Hotel Rwanda” (2004, United Artists) by Terry George, with Don Cheadle.  That film gave some sense of the history, how the tribes had been set up by the Belgians.  When I was a substitute teacher, a ninth grade English teacher taught the film with video worksheets, showing how foreshadowing works (“Cut the tall trees”)

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Rwanda.

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