"Beyond the Gates" also called Shooting Dogs, is the story refugees in the Ecole Techniques Officielle (ETO), a secondary Catholic School, in Kigali, Rwanda during the mass genocide of the Tutsi in of 1994. Told through the eyes of those people trapped behind the school gates, "Beyond the Gates" made me cry, tremble with fear and helped me see what our role was, as members of the U.N., passively standing by as hundreds of thousands of people died.
On April 6, 1994 the Rwandan Military shot down their president's plane and started a coup that eventually led the to the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans. During the first days of the genocide, thousands of Tutsi flocked to the the Ecole Techniques Officielle (ETO) a large catholic school where the U.N. Peace Observers were stationed. The priest stationed to the ETO, Father Christopher, brilliantly portrayed by John Hurt, walks a thin line between hope and hopelessness. He forces the UN to open the gate after the killings begin and their fortifications are set. Eventually, at his insistence, thousands of people find their way into the safe haven in his school. Young school teacher Joe Connor, masterfully played by Hugh Dancy, is forced to face his innocence and leave it on a Kigali dirt road.
The U.N. is the only thing between the Hutu and the Tusi, keeping a parameter at the edge of the school. The U.N. refuses to enforce the peace, and take active steps against the Hutu to stop the slaughter because their mandate was only to observe the peace. As more people shove onto the school grounds, the U.N. support becomes less sure.
David Wolstencroft, Richard Alwyn and David Belton wrote each of the characters with care, all with surprising strength and weaknesses. Even the characters in the film for a brief moment have emotional complexities. Every character surprised and touched me. It is also very rare that a film would have characters that are representative of a larger group of people, or message and still give them an individual humanity relatable to by any person with a heart.
"Beyond the Gates" is filmed on location in Kigali, Rwanda. Director Michael Caton-Jones believed that by filming there gave more credence to the story because it was just above the surface there. Many of the cast and crew were either at ETO, such as one woman who was raped and transacted HIV, or were affected by the genocide in Rwanda but outside the ETO. Many of the people on the cast and crew lost their whole family. Having so many people affected by the events portrayed gave the film a sincerity that made me angry, dejected and engrossed in the story.
[I feel the need to put a small disclaimer in here. I have to be vague about a lot of the character traits because if I say too much, I will have spoiled the ending of the film for you. I am understating the quality of each of the performances because I can't fully develop their qualities with out giving away the ending. So, for that reason, I'm tying my own hands and under valuing the performances in my review.]
John Hurt's character, Father Christopher, tries to give hope to the people in his school but can feel his hope fading away. The transformation from carefree to emotionally spent weighs heavy on the audience. It's as if the writers pulled the plug in his emotional bath tub. Use Christopher's conversations with the Counsel to tell you what is going on in the story. You have to read between the lines, but what they are actually saying is obvious. It is the best dialogue in the movie. Their smiling conversations are an exercise in diplomatic brinkmanship.
Joe Conner, Hugh Dancy's character, shows the truth about courage. As he is trying to hold on to his courage, Dancy gives Joe Conner a wealth of insecurities in which I was able to relate. Seeing Conner stripped of his child like impressions of the world and himself was heartbreaking.
Capitaine Charles Delon of the Belgium Army dispatched to be a U.N. peacekeeper is one of the most dimensional characters in the story. As a person wants nothing more than to act on the violence outside the gate but as a solider feels honor and duty bound to follow orders. Delon's, played by Dominique Horwitz, conscience suffers from the events in his past and he struggles with making it suffer in the future. He spends a lot of the movie trying to answer the question: Am I soldier or a person first?
Marie is the symbol of hope in the film. Her unwavering faith is inspiring and sometimes feels a little naïve. Claire-Hope Ashitey gives Marie a light way about here, even when the days are dark. Her part is small, but important to the movement of the story.
Rachael, a BBC reporter, speaks for the western world. Her brutal honesty about a situation and the way she feels is a highlight of the film. Rachael (Nicola Walker) says what so many people were thinking and no one would say.
There are a few film problems. There are a few scenes that are over processed and a few out of focus. These small problems didn't take too much from the film; they last only a few minutes but were enough for me to notice.
Why didn't I know about these things before the trend of movies on the subject of late? Why does it take over ten years for stories like this to touch us? Are we so ethnocentric that we can't see these people as people, relate to their strife or have active compassion for their situation? It makes me angry that we don't reach out to people like this when they need us, not ten years later.
See this movie. If your theater isn't showing it, ask for it. Call them and say, I WANT THIS MOVIE, because you want to see this. The acting is amazing, the writing is exceptional, the direction is flawless and the story left me shaking with fear, searching for a tissue, and most importantly, interested in Rwanda.