Opening 17 May 2007
Michael Caton-Jones was nominated for Best Director by the British Independent Film Academy and won The Heartland Film Festival’s Best Director award for this film. The film festival’s motto is: "to recognize and honor filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life". And that is what this extraordinary film about the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and the awesome failure of the United Nations to stop it, manages to do.
John Hurt, in the best performance he has ever given, plays an exhausted Catholic priest who heads a school in Rwanda. A naïve young teacher, Joe Conner (a touching Hugh Dancy), who comes to the school some months before the massacre begins, is deeply impressed by Father Christopher’s tireless dedication, by the school and the students.
Almost unnoticed at first, the events preceding one of the most brutal genocides in history unfold outside the gates. And then the impossible, unbelievable slaughter becomes reality and the UN Peacekeepers, headed by a Belgian Captain (brilliantly and wrenchingly played by Dominque Horwitz) set up headquarters within the school compound.
The presence of the Peacekeepers is reassuring to everyone. And first the parents of the children at the school, and eventually 2,500 Rwandans, seek refuge and Father Christopher, of course, allows them in the gates against the wishes of the UN soldiers.
As the days go by, the refugees flocking in from outside the gates tell terrible stories, and the limitations imposed by the UN mandate on the soldiers become more and more apparent. At one point they open the gates long enough to shoot the dogs which are eating the bodies lying in the road, but only the dogs. The film shows the heated discussions at the UN about the mission, and the tortured face of the Belgian Captain fully reflects his uncomprehending anguish at their decision.
Eventually, the soldiers are ordered to leave as escorts for Belgian citizens and other whites who have been brought in trucks from their refuge in a hotel in town (a story told in the earlier film, the unforgettable Hotel Ruanda).
Joe and Father Christopher are offered places and Rachel (Nicole Walker), a British journalist, tries to convince them both to come along. The tormented dilemma of whether to go or not is the crux of the story.
Even if you have seen Hotel Ruanda, this film is a gripping testament to both the incomprehensible evil and the honor and greatness of human beings. (Adele Riepe)