by Abigail Coleman
.Shooting Dogs (entitled Beyond the Gates in the United States), set in Kigali, depicts vivid and historically accurate images of the traumatic events that took place all over Rwanda in 1994. Although the characters are fictional, the experiences of BBC news reporter David Belton were used to enrich the film’s relaying of the real events. We learn of the suffering and pain inflicted upon the Tutsis by the Hutu extremists, and of the delayed response by the UN, which led to over 800,000 deaths in 100 days of oppression. The film is based around the Ecole Technique Officiale where Father Christopher (John Hurt), an English Catholic Priest, and gap year teacher Joe (Hugh Dancy) attempt to shelter Tutsis with the ‘help’ of the Belgian UN troops.
Survivors of the atrocities were involved in the production of the film, with some being co-producers in order to ensure good accuracy. The title of the film alludes to the frustration which Christopher and Joe face as they witness the UN troops’ lack of involvement in the events. The UN soldiers have a mandate not to shoot the rebels, and so do nothing to prevent the Tutsi from suffering. However, they do decide to shoot the dogs that are eating the dead bodies beyond the gates of the school because ‘they are becoming a health problem.’ It is this tension between the inactivity of the UN soldiers and Christopher and Joe’s desperate need to help the Tutsis which highlights the struggles of the war. . . .
The film follows the events of the genocide, starting with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane by Tutsis, which triggered the mass killings by the Hutu rebels. . . .
The United Nations initially viewed these events in relation to cultural identities, and took a culturally relativist stance. It saw Rwanda’s crisis as a cultural problem, and not something the West should have to deal with since it was part of a different culture. It also failed to see the need to aid Rwanda in a crisis which it did not recognise as being genocide. Shooting Dogs highlights the frustration that this caused many Westerners and Tutsis. . . . Through this tension, the film raises questions of how people can commit such evil acts, how humanity deals with such suffering, why innocent people suffer, and why God allows suffering at all.
The relationship between Christopher and Joe shows the contrasting responses people have when faced with suffering. Father Christopher, whose worldview is based around his Christian belief, constantly refers to his faith in God to try to explain how they should deal with the crisis. Joe, however, refers to his inner sense of justice and knowledge of morality, believing that practical help for the Tutsis is what is needed. A prime example of their differences is when Christopher prepares for mass shortly after the Tutsis start to shelter in the Ecole. Joe questions if this is the best thing to do in time of crisis stating, ‘I think maybe they’d prefer some food. Water. A spot of reassurance.’ Christopher replies, ‘Well, come to Mass. Get all three on the same ticket.’ Here we see how Christopher’s faith motivates his actions to help the Tutsi, and suggests that what Joe thinks the Tutsis need can be provided by God. . . .
Joe especially struggles with [the question of why there is suffering if God loves us]. As he witnesses more and more atrocities whilst attempting to save those he cares for, he comes to realise that he will not be able to save them himself. He therefore starts to question Christopher as to where God is in the crisis. . . . [Christopher responds], ‘You asked me, Joe, where is God in everything that is happening here, in all this suffering? I know exactly where he is. He’s right here. With these people. Suffering. His love is here. More intense and profound than I have ever felt.’ Once again, here we see the Christian understanding that God is not the cause of the evil and suffering; rather that it is the work of humanity’s sinful nature. But because God loves those he created, he is with them in their time of trouble, as someone they can turn to for peace. God is present in his followers, such as Father Christopher, as they provide comfort to people in their time of struggle. As Christopher conducts his final Mass before the UN soldiers leave the school, the Rwandans are aware of God’s love for them and they feel a sense of peace.
As today’s situation in Darfur, Sudan, continues, mirroring in some ways what took place in Rwanda, we can question why lessons were not learnt from this previous genocide. We can once again ask why the UN is not providing more aid to the people of Darfur, preventing more deaths. And we can again question why more people are being allowed to suffer unnecessarily. The creators of Shooting Dogs obviously felt that the Christian worldview, which is so prominent within the film, is a valuable one to consider in such times of crisis. In recreating the events on screen, and paralleling them with the questions many of us find ourselves asking God in times of crisis, we can be challenged to seek God for ourselves.