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Beyond the Gates (10/10)

by Tony Medley

In 1994, bloodthirsty, machete-laden Hutus massacred approximately 800,000 Tsutsis in Rwanda, as the United Nations, who had “peace keeping forces” in Rwanda and the Clinton Administration looked on with no sympathy. Director Michael Caton-Jones has taken a spellbinding script by David Wolstencroft and made this masterpiece that indicts the U.N. and the French by telling the story of a part of the massacre, the brutal annihilation of 2,500 Tsutsis at the Ecole Technique Officiele.

The school was run by a Catholic priest, Father Christopher (John Hurt), aided by a volunteer, Joe Conner (Hugh Dancy). Their relatively idyllic life is thrown topsy-turvy when the President of Rwanda is assassinated by the barbarian Hutus and a country-wide genocide is conducted in which all Tsutsis are called “grasshoppers” and are subject to immediate execution by machete wherever they are found.

The film takes place on the grounds of the Ecole where 2,500 Tsutsis had come, risking their lives to get there, to be protected by the Catholic priests and the French U.N. force that was there. The story is true and is based on the experiences of David Belton, who co-produced and co-wrote the original story. Belton was sent to Rwanda by the BBC in 1994 to cover it for Newsnight, a BBC current affairs program.

Belton and his team were in extreme danger and only survived because they were given shelter by a Catholic priest, Vjeko Curic, who became the basis for the character of Father Christopher.

Father Christopher shelters the 2,500 Tsutsis as Joe risks his life to get a television crew to come cover what was happening at the Ecole. This movie brings home the shame of the United States and the United Kingdom and their responsibility for what happened. These countries and many more refused to call mass slaughter in Rwanda a genocide for fear that they would be obliged to intervene.  They went so far as to lobby the UN Security Council to ensure that no further UN Forces were sent to Rwanda.  The failure of the Western world to act resulted in nearly a million deaths. You cannot watch this film and come out feeling anything but outrage at the Clinton Administration and the French for allowing this to happen. The disgrace is summarized by a line uttered by the TV reporter, “When I was in Bosnia…I cried every day when I saw a dead woman in the street. Over here, they’re just dead Africans.”

I saw this the night it opened at the Laemmle in Santa Monica because I had missed the screening. There were 12 people in the theater. One of them was screenwriter Wolstencroft, who, before the film started, told of the difficulties in getting the film made and distributed and urged people to spread the word about it. To give a feeling for the mountain they are attempting to climb with this film, it isn’t even listed on the Internet Movie Data Base. If you go there and try to find it by accessing the filmography for John Hurt, the star, or Michael Caton-Jones, the director, the film isn’t listed (although it is listed under its UK title, "Shooting Dogs;" but what good does that do in America?). Fortunately, I am in a position to spread the word. Instead of abusing your intelligence by going to the latest major studio flummery like the latest Will Ferrell fiasco, do yourself a favor and see this brilliant, low-budget independent masterpiece instead, one that educates as well as entertains.

March 21, 2007