Let me start by saying that I do not understand why the title was changed to Beyond the Gates in the United States. Here is the explanation of the original title from Wikipedia’s Shooting Dogs page:
The film’s title refers to the actions of UN soldiers in shooting at the stray dogs that scavenged the bodies of dead. Since the UN soldiers were not allowed to shoot at the Hutus that had caused the deaths in the first place, the shooting of dogs is symbolic of the madness of the situation that the film attempts to capture.
I think the original title is much better than the U.S. title and I agree with the following quote from Dean Kish’s review of the movie:
The original title is quite literal in its meaning and more poignant to what the film is about. The new watered down title holds no reflection to the plight in the film. I hate it when they change titles so as to not offend anyone or assume the audience is stupid.
A possible criticism of Beyond the Gates is that its two main characters are white. David Belton, the BBC journalist whose story the movie is based on, explains why the two lead characters in the movie are white in an interview available among the bonus material on the DVD. Here is what Belton says in the interview (yes, I wrote this down from the interview):
I had to tell the story the way I could only tell it. I couldn’t write a story that was from the Rwandan experience; I had to tell the story from my own experience and from the experiences of other people I knew out here.
Both characters are fictional, but they are amalgamations of my experiences and also people that I knew out here at the time who were white. For me, that was the only truthful way of telling the story: to tell it from that perspective—my perspective—of being here at the time.
And also, I feel that the white man’s role within Rwanda—and what happened here—is so important in terms of making people understand how we have come to this continent for a hundred years now, how we have dealt with it, rightly and wrongly—and in Rwanda’s case, most definitely wrongly—that it was entirely legitimate that a film should be made, that audiences would see, that had white men placed right at the center of the story.
So there you have the explanation regarding the main characters’ ethnicity, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Comparisons between Beyond the Gates and Hotel Rwanda are inevitable, even though the two movies are quite different. The former has a documentary feel to it, was shot in Rwanda with many local people involved, and puts more focus on the behavior of the West during the genocide; the latter has more of a traditional-movie feel to it, was shot in South Africa, and focuses on the heroism of one Rwandan. Both are well worth seeing, but Beyond the Gates is, in my opinion, the better of the two movies.
While it is not an easy movie to watch, it is definitely worth the effort. An important movie, Beyond the Gates is very powerful and brutal, and the feeling of authenticity is pervasive; a strong reminder that what happened in Rwanda in 1994 must not be allowed to happen again, but it is a message that seems to go largely unheeded.
(Original title: Shooting Dogs.)