|Article by Tony Mushoborozi
Published March 3, 2008
Some viewers may see it as a coincidence while others will say it is a case of life imitating art. But whatever conclusion one reaches, there is little doubt that SHOOTING DOGS, a 115-minute feature film directed by Michael Caton-Jones of the United Kingdom in 2005 on Rwandan Genocide, could as well have been describing the post-election violence that erupted in Kenya following the swearing in of Mwai Kibaki on December 30, 2007 as president in a poll that was widely seen as having been fraudulent.
The film, set in the Ecole Technique Officielle and starring Father Christopher of the Roman Catholic Church, young English teacher Joe Connor, UN Belgian troops and Rwandan refugees, is a sombre reflection of the heart-rending cataclysmic genocide that rocked Rwanda following the shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenile Habyarimana, a Hutu, in April 1994. Suspecting Tutsi militias to be responsible for Habyarimana’s death, Hutu militias take the law into their hands and close to a million people are killed in less than four months as the world watches.
So why shoot dogs?
The movie’s title is taken from a scene in which Father Christopher confronts the commander of the UN Belgian troops who, instead of protecting the people sheltering in his school against those about to exterminate them, wants to shoot the dogs that are eating the bodies of the genocide victims. His argument is that he does not have the mandate to fend off the killers unless they attack the UN soldiers.
The commander’s argument incenses Father Christopher so much so that he lashes out, “Have they [the dogs] shot at you?”
“Who shot at us?” the baffled soldier asks.
“The dogs,” the priest shoots back, adding, “so that’s [shooting of the scavenging dogs] in your mandate?”
It brings out the animosity between Hutu and Tutsi before the genocide, the plane crash that killed Habyarimana, the vengeful machete-clutching militias, the massacring of hundreds of thousands of helpless people, and the indifference of the UN troops. It is an account of what could have happened; at least if one is to go by what the international media fed the world about the genocide.
The story revolves around a Tutsi refugee camp in a white owned catholic school under the leadership of Father Christopher. The refugees enjoy reasonable calm in this UN protected camp until the UN evacuates the white people and leaves them at the mercy of the killers.
Since the genocide involved great mass murder, the crowd scenes are a great facility to the film.
One scene, for example, shows the refugees in Father Christopher’s school, and we see just outside the gate an opponent crowd swinging machetes and baying for the blood of the refugees inside the school. When later the UN pulls out of the place leaving the merciful priest Father Christopher, the leader of the machete-swinging crowd commands: “Do the work!” and in that one single day at that school 2,500 unarmed people are massacred. The perimeter fence around the school makes the thing much easier.
Acting is another great success of the film, but depending on where you stand, you might find most of the white characters too salted; the woman whose baby was swung to death by the Hutu gang reports to no one else but the young white teacher. The men planning to secure the refuge camp can not go ahead without letting the young white teacher know. When one of the camp women goes into labour, the first to run to her help are this young white teacher and a BBC journalist, and the midwife is none other than the priest, Father Christopher. Such instances in the story unnecessarily exude overtones of we-are-dead-without-Whiteman’s-help kind of thing which is the imagination of a less aware white director.
On the contrary, when Father Christopher risks his life driving out to the dangerous streets to find medicine to save the life of a newborn baby, it is believable since he has better chance of surviving the Hutu gangs on the street because they don’t care much about a white man. They want Tutsis.
The camera and editing are quite systematic. Since the story is sad and emotional, much of the shots are medium and close-ups. However, the gang outside the school gate and the ones on the road blocks are shot from the perspective of the innocent refugees inside the wire fence, hence are long and wide shots. The shots from the inside people are largely close-ups. It is by this that we are drawn to the emotions of the Tutsi innocent refugees and not those of the Hutus on the streets.
The language is fundamental. One thing you will notice about the language is the continuous refusal of the UN troop commander to save the situation. He keeps using the words; “It is not in our Mandate”. In one confrontation between this commander and Father Christopher, the commander emphasises his refusal by saying “I am a soldier!”, leading the priest to the furthest emotional walls to exclaim; “Why don’t we just fuck the mandate!” A four letter word from a holy mouth!
The movie implies something Christ-like in Father Christopher’s name.
The movie ends with a reunion of a beautiful Tutsi girl and the young white teacher, Connor, outside of Rwanda. They had enjoyed a love relationship until the young white teacher fled for dear life with the rest of the white community.
The former English teacher replies, “I was afraid to die.”
It sounds like the director is trying to cleanse the conscience of the insensitive white people. But does he?
All pix by cinemovies.fr
Tony Mushoborozi wrote this film review during the “Arts and Cultural Journalism Workshop for East Africans: May 1-13, 2007” at 4th Amakula Kampala International Film Festival. It was co-facilitated by Mbye Cham (Howard University, USA) and Ogova Ondego (ArtMatters.Info, Kenya)