Beyond the Gates

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It's certainly a positive thing that Western filmmakers are engaged by the genocidal horrors of Rwanda in 1994, when the world looked the other way while Hutu militiamen murdered 250,000 fellow Rwandans, mostly Tutsi citizens and their sympathizers. But "Beyond the Gates" makes it clear that after "Hotel Rwanda," HBO's "Sometimes in April" and several documentaries, more is needed to reach moviegoers than a recitation of the facts.

In all fairness, this film is not fresh. It debuted at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival under the title "Shooting Dogs." While Michael Caton-Jones and his actors have performed solidly, any audience member who has seen any of the other productions or read anything about 1994 Rwanda will anticipate nearly every key plot point. Consequently, the audience for this IFC Films release is extremely limited theatrically. It undoubtedly will do better on DVD.

One crucial problem is that while "Hotel Rwanda" focused on a Rwandan responding to the crisis within his country, "Gates" takes the tired point of view of white Westerners bearing witness to the crisis and atrocities. These would be a Catholic priest, Father Christopher (John Hurt), and an English teacher, Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), at the Ecole Technique Officielle in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Since Belgian U.N. troops are using the school as an army base, more than 2,500 Tutsis take refuge inside the ETO gates when a coup triggers the well-planned slaughter.

Although the film was filmed at the actual secondary school, lending terrific verisimilitude to the drama, the story struggles to find fictional counterpoints to the actual events. The horrors cause the priest to suffer a crisis of faith, while the teacher loses his innocence and idealism. The film hesitantly touches on a budding relationship between the teacher and one of his older female students, Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey, the U.K.-born actress who was the pregnant teen in "Children of Men"). Sharp exchanges between the white civilians and the U.N. captain (Dominique Horwitz) lay bare the moral culpability of the U.N.

Yet the script is more journalistic than dramatic, which reflects its origins as a moral obligation by producer and co-story writer David Belton, himself a BBC News cameraman in Rwanda covering the inhumanity. The greatest failure of the film, written by David Wolstencroft, is its inability to enter into the lives of the Rwandans, Tutsi and Hutu alike. The movie never moves beyond the tragic facts to show us the human face of either victims or perpetrators. All we get are white people shaking their heads and cursing Western governments.

BEYOND THE GATES
IFC Films
An Adirondack Pictures, BBC Films and U.K. Film Council presentation in association with Invicta Capital and Filmstiftung NRW of a CrossDay/Egoli Tossell production in association with BBC Films

Credits: Director: Michael Caton-Jones; Screenwriter: David Wolstencroft; Story by: Richard Alwyn, David Belton; Producers: David Belton, Pippa Cross, Jens Meurer; Executive producers: David M. Thompson, Paul Trijbits, Ruth Caleb, Karsten Stoter, Richard Alwyn; Director of photography: Ivan Strasburg; Production designer: Bertram Strauss; Music: Dario Marianelli; Costume designer: Dinah Collin; Editor: Christian Lonk. Cast: Father Christopher: John Hurt; Joe Connor: Hugh Dancy; Captain Delon: Dominique Horwitz; Sibomana: Louis Mahoney; Rachel: Nicola Walker; Roland: Steve Toussaint; Francois: David Gyasi; Marie: Claire-Hope Ashitey.
MPAA rating R, running time 116 minutes.

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