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Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Bringing genocide to the big screen
By Robert Walker
BBC, Kigali

Shooting Dogs, a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has begun filming in the capital Kigali, starring John Hurt and using survivors in the cast and crew.

Hugh Dancy on set of Shooting Dogs
The film features King Arthur star Hugh Dancy alongside local actors
A line of grim-faced United Nations peacekeepers force back hundreds of desperate Tutsis trying to fight their way onto trucks.

Close by, Hutu militias wait, sharpening their machetes. The truck engines start up, but only white people are allowed to board.

Panic spreads through the crowd about to be left behind. Terrified at the fate in store for them, some try to lie in front of the trucks. Others beg the UN troops to shoot them before they leave.

These events are being recreated in chilling detail for Shooting Dogs - but really happened at a school in Kigali 10 years ago.

It is a gripping drama that portrays the world's failure to intervene in 1994, through the story of two Europeans.

Joe is a young, idealistic teacher, played by King Arthur star Hugh Dancy. Father Christopher is an ageing priest, played by veteran actor John Hurt.

This is the equivalent of making a film about the Holocaust set in Auschwitz, with Auschwitz survivors
Michael Caton-Jones

"He's constantly found himself up against impossible situations. But the one thing he's always felt he's had is hope," says Hurt of his character.

"But when the nuns for whom he says mass every week are raped and murdered, it's more than his mind can take. Then there is an opportunity for escape."

Father Christopher and Joe must decide whether to leave with the UN peacekeepers, or to stay with their Rwandan pupils and friends to face a horrific death.

Director Michael Caton-Jones, whose previous films include Scandal and Rob Roy, says it is important Shooting Dogs is shot on location at the school where the killings took place.

"It's an opportunity for me to utilise the people who were actually involved in the story we're trying to tell."

I'm ready to play the role - I want the whole world to know what happened in Rwanda
Venuste Karasira
Genocide survivor
Tutsis gathered at the school, expecting the Belgian UN peacekeepers stationed there to save them. Instead, they were abandoned and more than 2,000 were massacred.

But he acknowledges it is also painful for the Rwandans involved in the film.

"This is the equivalent of making a film about the Holocaust set in Auschwitz, with Auschwitz survivors, almost immediately after what happened there."

Venuste Karasira is one of the few who escaped the massacre at the school. Ten years on, he is re-enacting the horrific scenes he lived through.

"There are some people who may feel pain and be traumatised. But I'm ready to play the role. I want the whole world to know what happened in Rwanda," he says.

It certainly wasn't a part I jumped at
John Hurt
But convincing potential backers that people - particularly in the west - would want to watch a film about genocide was a difficult task at first.

And Hurt was initially reluctant to become involved.

"It certainly wasn't a part I jumped at," he says.

"I've always been slightly sceptical about disaster movies based on fact. If there was any hint this was being made for sensational reasons I wouldn't have done it."

The film-makers hope that by using Europeans as the central characters, they will find a bridge to western audiences.

West message

"It's told through the eyes of westerners because there is no point telling the Rwandans," says Mr Caton-Jones. "They know what happened. My job is to tell the story to the west so that they will understand."

Despite the presence of UN troops, 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were slaughtered in just 100 days.

As filming starts in Rwanda, some human rights groups have claimed another genocide is under way in the Darfur region of Sudan.

"As far as I can see, there isn't a damn bit of difference now from then," says Mr Caton-Jones. "There is a reluctance for western governments to be involved in something that has no material impact on them."

Shooting Dogs, backed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, is among a batch of new films being made about the genocide this year.

Wider audience

The force behind the film has been producer David Belton, who reported on the genocide as a BBC journalist. Still haunted by his experiences, he wrote the story two years ago with Richard Alwyn.

"I don't think I did a particularly good job covering the genocide," he says. "I was in and out of the country too much. I wanted to come back and this time get the story out to a wider audience."

Mr Belton says he was originally under pressure to make the film in South Africa, but shooting at locations in Rwanda is proving a success.

"It's very secure here and there are huge numbers of willing people who want to help, who want to be part of it."

Shooting Dogs is due for release in cinemas next year.


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