Shooting Dogs (15)

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones
Written by David Wolstencroft (screenplay), Richard Alwyn and David Belton (story)
Screening at FACT from 21st-27th April 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

In 1994, Rwandan radio broadcast a chilling message, calling on the majority Hutus to wipe out the ‘Tutsi cockroaches’. In the violence that followed, around a million Tutsi people were killed. Though the characters in this film are fictional, the story is genuine, and it was filmed on location at the Ecole Technique Officielle (Official Technical School) in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

In Shooting Dogs, the school is run by Father Christopher (John Hurt), who has worked in the country for decades. Naive young Teacher Hugh Dancy (Joe Connor) wants to “make a difference” and is "starring in his own Oxfam ad". The school is also a temporary base for the small United Nations deployment, which is led by Capitaine Charles Delon (Dominique Horwitz). As thugs attack everyone around the camp, the people inside can only look on, since the UN mandate restricted the soldiers to shooting if fired upon. Unlike in 2004’s ‘Hotel Rwanda’, there are no acts of individual heroism to cheer us up a bit. Several scenes are unbearably moving, and as an audience we share in the horrible passivity of the onlookers in the film.

However, once the emotion had subsided I realised that despite the genocide and everything, this was mostly the story of the suffering endured by the white do-gooders (who really didn't do much good anyway). Though I’m sure he means well, Shooting Dogs is little more than a release for co-writer and producer David Belton, who was a BBC news producer in Rwanda at the time but fled in a whites only rescue mission. Apart from athletic student Marie (Claire-Hope Ashitey), the other black characters are machete-wielding maniacs or stand in the background looking scared, as well they might.

It's unlikely there will be a third Rwanda film any time soon, but I'm going to make one up anyway. Since we should probably have white actors in leading roles for the sake of the box office, I'm going to cast John Travolta as lower lip biting Bill Clinton, who was banking on the genocide provoking a Tutsi uprising so that his guy would come to power. And Daniel Autiel can be François Mitterand, whose French government knew about the genocide plans for months beforehand but wanted the Hutus to entrench their power base. Between them (and maybe Rory Bremner doing a John Major) the conspiracy of thieves deliberately left the UN toothless and impotent. Context must be provided in historical dramas, otherwise even genocide seems like just one of those things that happen from time to time.

Printer friendly page