Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Shooting Dogs

I saw this film for the first time last week. As in the case of most good films it is difficult to say that the short trailer above truly does it justice. Nonetheless it gives a brief flavour of the film.

It must surely be one of the most powerfully moving films ever made and covers so many important subjects in under two hours.

To summarise briefly it is the tale of an idealistic young English gap year student who volunteers to work in Rwanda for a year. He works in a school run by a rather weary but humane Catholic priest played by John Hurt.

What would have been a familiar tale of a year working in a poor country before going to University becomes something far more and immeasurably more daunting due to the outbreak of genocidal violence against the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority.

The speed and brutality of the violence often commited by former neighbours is shocking. The school that is also used as a base by Belgian UN peace keepers quickly becomes a sanctuary for thousands of terrified Tutsis.

The outcome of the story, as told by history is sadly obvious. The UN is tied up by its mandates and unable to do anything, while the Clinton regime in power in 1994 becomes caught up in characteristicly irrelevant legalisms such as the difference between genocide and "genocidal acts" as a justification for not getting involved. Other powers no doubt used similar excuses. The UN peace keepers ultimately fail to keep the peace or even save lives. They are reduced to simply "shooting dogs" who feed on the thousands of dead in the streets as a futile attempt to maintain "public health".

The film is a reminder of the world's failure to stop the slaughter of up to a million people in 100 days while it watched daily on its televisions. It is reminder of humanity's propensity for evil as well as its capacity for amazing courage and self-sacrifice.

It is a most disturbing watch but also a powerfully moving one. With Africa again in the news as Mugabe's regime intimidates those who seek to challenge it, one has to wonder could such horrific events again play out on the world's television screens while we are powerless to intervene ?

Finally, the one message of hope is the film itself. Unlike the equally acclaimed "Hotel Rwanda" (which I have not seen but hope to) the film is largely shot in Rwanda in the same locations that genocide occurred barely a decade earlier. Many of those who appear in the film are survivors of the genocide. The last thing the film shows is the capacity for forgiveness and hope amongst those who have suffered so terribly.

I commend this film to all who are interested in Africa and in humanity in general.


cw-patriot said...


I read your review of this film a couple of days ago and discovered that, here in America, it was titled ‘Beyond the Gates’.

Both of our (grown) children are here visiting this weekend (it is our Independence Day weekend) and, when they are here, we generally make it a practice to rent a good movie and watch it together.

Remembering your moving review of ‘Shooting Dogs’ (‘Beyond the Gates’), my husband and I went to our local Blockbuster Video store this afternoon and found it. Rick and our son retired early tonight (it was a long day), but Mandy, our daughter, and I stayed up to watch it.

It is indeed among the most powerful movies I can ever recall seeing. I was brought to tears (actually sobs) on several occasions, and was left with an indescribable feeling of loss and anger that the world, in effect, turned a blind eye to this gruesome human-on-human atrocity.

One of the glaring depictions that came through so strongly for me was the impotence of the United Nations to deal with anything truly meaningful for humanity. They are forever handing down elitist tyrannical edicts, and yet, when it comes to taking a stand regarding stepping in and preventing an historically monumental human tragedy –- an action that should be considered the over-riding purpose of the organization -- they are nowhere to be found. Or, as in the case of the events depicted in this movie, they provide easy lip service, and then withdraw when the going gets tough, allowing the slaughter of thousands of innocents they should have considered their calling to protect at all costs.

Sincere thanks for alerting me to this excellent, powerful film. I wish all of those who believe than man is innately ‘good’ would make it a point to see it. Doing so would awaken them to the fact that man is only as ‘good’ as he is successful in battling his evil inclinations – and that many men (such as those who chose to pick up, and use, machetes in this film) have completely given in to their baser instincts.

It is up to the rest of us to see to it that such evil is confined, if not eradicated. Refusing to do so, or turning a blind eye to the suffering of others, renders us every bit as guilty as those who wield the machetes.

~ joanie

Luis said...

Thank you Joanie.

Glad you got the chance to see this film.

I agree that the impotence of the UN is made frustratingly clear here. Whatever the views of the role of this organisation, in Rwanda it was in place and on the ground. Despite that it still appeared utterly unable or unwilling to act in a way that could at least save the lives of some innocents.

That it failed in such a big way and does not seem to have asked itself many questions about what went wrong, gives a further insight to the mentality of the organisation.

I agree that this is a reminder of the capacity for evil in ordinary people and self satisfied notions that people are broadly good prove meaningless when faced by evil in the form of a machete wielding man.