Written by Caballero Oscuro
In 1994, approximately 800,000 Rwandans were killed during a brutal genocide. Beyond The Gates presents a dramatic recreation of the events that transpired during the initial days of the genocide, centering on the efforts of two British citizens to protect the endangered natives. The events portrayed in the film are presented much as they transpired, although the two main characters are fictional creations based on people encountered by the writers. Lending a further sense of reality to the production, it was filmed in Rwanda in the same compound where the events originally took place.
Hugh Dancy stars as a young teacher who has come to Rwanda in the hopes of making a difference in the lives of his local students. He’s idealistic and a bit overzealous, but he quickly discovers his youthful energy won’t solve all of his impending problems. John Hurt also stars as a wise Catholic priest and headmaster of the school who has been in Rwanda for decades and has no intention of leaving. He brings a compelling gravitas to the role and contributes one of the strongest performances of his career. Their school is a base for a UN peacekeeping force with strict directions to observe but not intervene in a tentative peace accord between the two warring ethnic groups of Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi.
After the assassination of the Rwandan president, the Hutu militia begins a systematic extermination of the Tutsi as well as their moderate Hutu brethren. Bodies begin piling up in the streets, and terrified Tutsi flee their homes in search of sanctuary. Since the school is a secure compound with the added protection of a UN force, the panicked Tutsi congregate within its boundaries in the hopes of finding protection from the madness outside. Meanwhile, the rest of the world fails to act, with the US taking a decidedly uncharacteristic hands-off approach and the UN refusing to even label the uprising a genocide, leaving their peacekeeping troops with no authority to assist the Tutsi.
As the violence escalates, Dancy and Hurt’s characters are faced with a harrowing choice: abandon the Tutsi who trusted them for protection or stay and risk the chance of death at the hand of the Hutu extremists. France and Italy quickly send troops into the country, but only to extract their own nationals. Finally, the UN decides to recall their troops rather than send them into action, removing the last hope of salvation for the doomed Tutsi citizens.
In the hands of veteran director Michael Caton-Jones, the story is presented in a straightforward, polished fashion that belies the difficulty of its production. Filming in Rwanda presented numerous logistical challenges, as the country has no film infrastructure and the production's modest budget didn't allow much leeway to create one. Filming the story in the exact location where it took place also affected many of the local crewmembers hired on to assist the production as they had personal knowledge of the site’s terrible history. In fact, the most moving aspect of the entire film occurs during its final credits through the descriptions of the family members lost by its crewmembers and the steps they took to survive. It’s not played for shock value, but it’s an extremely effective method of driving home the extent of damage caused by this largely forgotten genocide.
Beyond The Gates is now playing in select theaters, check the film’s website for additional information.