Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Cast: John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, Claire-Hope Ashley, Dominique Horwitz, Steve Toussaint, Susan Nalwoga
Duration: 115 minutes
Nearly two decades years later, the Rwandan genocide continues to intrigue filmmakers, even if they feel unable to depict the full horror of the bloody events because a Western audience may be unable to stomach them. Although in many respects a more stylish, authentic, tougher-minded film than Hotel Rwanda, director Michael Caton-Jones' respectable and well-intentioned Shooting Dogs still falls into the trap of filtering an inherently African story through the eyes of a noble white protagonist - in this case, two of them.
Like the Hotel des Mille Collines that provided the inspiration for Hotel Rwanda, the École Technique Officielle was a real place - a secondary school located in the capital city of Kigali that similarly came to serve as a makeshift shelter for Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the height of the killings. The school, which also served as base camp for a company of Belgian UN peacekeepers, came to harbor some 2,500 refugees.
The film takes it name from the fact that the soldiers were given permission to shoot dogs which were eating the dead bodies yet the UN, which refused to acknowledge a genocide was taking place despite tens of thousands of people being hacked to death every day, did not allow them to fire a single shot at machete-wielding Hutus intent on ridding the planet of Tutsis. Some five days after the start of the genocide, after having ensured that white expats had been flown out of the country, the UN pulled its troops out of the school consigning the black people left behind to the knowledge they would certainly be murdered.
The fictionalized screenplay by David Wolstencroft unfolds through the eyes of Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), a young British schoolteacher spending a year at the Ecole. There, he is taken under the wing of the avuncular Father Christopher (John Hurt), whose weary face fails to conceal the ethnic violence he has witnessed during his long African sojourn.
Shooting Dogs early sections do an accomplished job of mapping out the simmering tensions between Rwanda's Hutu and Tutsi factions: the bright Tutsi pupil, Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to whom Joe has taken a particular liking, is teased and pelted by Hutu classmates, while the school's Hutu custodian (David Gyasi) is shown to be one of the many Rwandans whose sensibilities have been corrupted by the incessant hate propaganda of the infamous RTLM radio station. Location shooting in Kigali is a major plus.
In many respects, the character of Joe seems a surrogate for Shooting Dogs producer and co-story writer David Belton, who was himself a BBC news cameraman on location in Rwanda in 1994 and who, in the film's press notes, expresses a feeling of guilt over the speed with which he - like nearly all other Americans and Europeans - evacuated the country as soon as the going got tough.
Exploring that guilt is certainly a worthy subject for a film. But as Shooting Dogs progresses, it turns into more of an exaltation of Joe and Father Christopher than a consideration of why the Western world was so quick to turn a blind eye to Rwanda. After a while, the nobility of the characters, and of the film itself, becomes stifling. In short, if Hotel Rwanda was a movie about 1,200 people who lived while nearly 1,000,000 others perished, Shooting Dogs is a movie about the two white men who stayed behind to help when all others fled. Aside from Marie, none of picture's African characters are developed in three dimensions.
Shooting Dogs is unquestionably at its most compelling in its depiction of Father Christopher's steadfast reliance on spirituality, even when confronted with such a startling display of inhumanity. Even as the violence reaches its zenith, he continues to perform Mass and seems more concerned with making sure each child receives communion than in formulating a possible exit strategy. Yet the film stops short of becoming a full-bodied portrait of a clergyman in crisis, and too often falls back on by-now familiar images of carnage-strewn streets and corrupt government ministers.
With a drawn, harrowed face like a relief map of suffering, Hurt proves one of the picture's chief assets, as does newcomer Ashitey, though Dancy's performance rarely advances beyond one-note outrage. Despite its minor shortcomings, Shooting Dogs benefits immeasurably from the fluidity of Caton-Jones' direction and the depth, texture and immediacy of Ivan Strasburg's lensing.
The wealth of cinematic material on this unpleasant subject (including HBO's Sometimes in April and several excellent documentaries) has generally failed to reach a mainstream audience and it is a pity that, on its box office release, this uncommercial BBC movie only reached a small audience of politically-aware viewers. UKHotMovies.com urges you to buy the DVD which is packed full of extras, pass it onto your friends, and ask yourself why 800,000 people were hacked to death in four months while we all did nothing.
Audio commentary from director Michael Caton-Jones; Audio commentary from writer David Wolstencroft and producer David Benton; 'The Making Of Shooting Dogs' featurette (40 mins); Michael Caton Jones and David Belton make a research visit to the ETO (29 mins); Filmmaker's diaries; Education material on the Rwandan genocide
Educational PDF Documents:
Download study guides on the historical background of the film and issues of colonialism.
Background and Impact of European Colonialism
Historical Background to Rwandan Genocide
Hotel Rwanda - buy the DVD at a special discount price with FREE delivery. It tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, the man who refused to ignore the atrocities suffered by the people of Rwanda. As the violence escalated and innocent people were slaughtered, Paul opened up his hotel to offer shelter to the thousands in need.
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