Shooting Dogs
4/5   US title: Beyond the Gates
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Michael Caton-Jones
scr David Wolstencroft
with John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Dominique Horwitz, Steve Toussaint, Susan Nalwoga
release UK 31.Mar.06, US 9.Mar.07
05/UK BBC Films 1h55

Life or death: Ashitey and Dancy

hurt dancy ashitey

Toronto Film Fest London Film Fest

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Shooting Dogs This is such a riveting film that it's a pity its true story is so similar to last year's Hotel Rwanda. It's a similar account of the breakout of genocide in April 1994, from an observational, less emotional perspective.

Joe (Dancy) is an enthusiastic young teacher at a Catholic school in Kigali, run by veteran Father Christopher (Hurt). A UN officer from Belgium (Horwitz) is based at the school with his soldiers to observe the peaceful sharing of the government between the rival Hutus and Tutsis. But as we know, it didn't go like that; the Tutsis started massacring the Hutus, and refugees flooded into the school while the UN tied the soldiers' hands.

The film traces Joe and Christopher's harrowing experiences from their specific points of view. Like them, we watch the horror rather than experience it first-hand. This makes the film oddly emotionless, although both actors deliver fine performances (Hurt even survives a couple of overwritten speeches). Friendships with two women (including Ashitey's young athlete and Nalwoga's pregnant mother) and a couple of men add texture and detail, but never engage us intimately.

The rest of the cast is superb as well, and Caton-Jones directs with a documentary-style urgency that's enhanced by filming in actual locations--dusty and sunbaked, with lively faces and authentic cultural rhythms. It's low-key and natural, not moviefied at all--letting the horrific events themselves take centre stage. There's a growing sense of menace as crowds of voracious Hutus gather outside the school fences, and the shocking scenes of slaughter make it much more real than we want it to be.

This is earthier and more rough-edged than Hotel Rwanda, and it actually dares to vocalise the deep-seated racism that prevented the international community from doing something before it was far too late (a news clip of government doublespeak is sickening and, essentially, proof of murder). Yet glimpses of hope and faith seem to flicker as the events get increasingly extreme, and the filmmakers make sure we know exactly what was happening. The climactic sequence in the school is simply astonishing. And until the West realises what it did here, these stories need to be told.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.Oct.05 lff

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall