Beyond the Gates: Feature Film Explores Rwandan Genocide
- Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Obviously you went there fully prepared to see death and dying, but can you tell me what happened that made you realize that this was something truly evil?
The roadblock scene in the film did happen to me. And it was frightening. It was this idea that they were quite prepared to kill people in front of us. It felt like there were no rules. They didn’t care of the media was watching or not. Also, it frightened us because we thought we were next. That fed into an important feeling which was that we felt sometimes that we didn’t do a particularly good job. It was very diff to convey what was going on. A number of us left because we were genuinely fearful for our lives. And I left. That roadblock made me leave, but I know colleagues who stayed. I feel bad about that, but that active leaving was a defining moment. I’d made friends with this tremendous European priest, Vjeko Curic. He sheltered us and he stayed, and he was a very remarkable man.
In the film, the character played by Hugh Dancy looks remarkably like you.
Don’t tell him that, please. I’m sure he would be quite horrified.
(Laughing) Well, how about a young David Belton then?
Now Joe, his character, has a strong Christian faith. And, what happens to him is similar to what happened to you. Were you there as a person of faith, like him?
I had a faith in a rather conventional British sort of way, but I was questioning that when I got there. I’d seen enough to question it, to wonder about it. But I think that what I saw there made my faith come up short. I just couldn’t reconcile what I had been taught as a young man going to church with what I saw there. It was very difficult to reconcile a benevolent god with what going on there. People were running for their lives and being killed, often in churches. In my mind, it was too tough for my faith to stand. So the character of Joe – he has his own faith and it’s not representative of mine, but there are echoes of that. Certainly Hugh is not playing me, though, nor does he represent me.
How did you cope with this trauma at the time? What did you do with your emotions? What about afterwards?
I was pretty British. I buried things very deeply. It was only when I heard that the priest had been killed in Rwanda four years after the genocide, that I thought, “Come on! Grow up! You are not addressing things!” You’ve got to deal with it. You’ve got …it’s going to come back and bite you. If you think you can just bury it, it will appear. I very much wanted to find a route through that. I didn’t want to sit in a psychiatrist chair and moan. I wanted to do something that was tied with the job that I loved doing, which was making films and documentaries.
How did the film come about?
I had been making documentaries for years and Richard Alwyn and I had been writing stories for feature films. He said, you’ve got to be really passionate about the subject, and maybe we’re not doing that. What’s the thing that really matters to you? I said, Rwanda. It’s something I feel very strongly about, very passionate about, but I have yet to deal with it. He said, Come on, let’s do it. So we wrote the story. BBC films loved it and wanted to run with it. ….we found a young writer who wrote a fantastic script. We took him out to Rwanda and he wrote an even better second draft.
It was released in the UK last year under a different name. Why did you go with the title change?
We all felt that it was a title that alienated people. In the UK, people saw it as a film that was about genocide, but it was about shooting dogs. We wanted to find a title that was a bit more embracing – a bit more inviting.
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