by Edwin L. Carpenter – Editor, The Dove Foundation
“Beyond the Gates” is hitting the streets on DVD Tuesday, September 18. The edited version, toned down primarily in language, was awarded our Dove “Family-Edited” Seal. The Dove Foundation was able to speak recently with both the producer, David Belton, and the director, Michael Caton-Jones. Both men believed strongly that the story of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was a story that needed to be visually told, as difficult as it may be to view.
Both producer Belton and director Caton-Jones have extensive credits in the film industry, and the challenge would not be the technical side of making the film, but making sure the story was told so that Rwandans would be satisfied, and newcomers to the story would be properly informed of the terrors that took place thirteen years ago in a country not so far away.
We began the interview with Mr. Belton, who not only produced the picture, but also was a reporter in Rwanda during this dark period of genocide. “What did you really want to focus on in this film?” we asked Mr. Belton.
“The goal was simple, to get a story out about Rwanda that would affect people, and that would make us all ask much more fundamental questions about who we all are in this world that we live in. It was a story that was of immense importance that barely reached the public consciousness. So we had to do better this time.”
We asked Mr. Belton if it was difficult making the film from the perspective of his having lived in Rwanda during this period which the film represents. “No,” he directly replied. “The short answer is that Michael is a very good director, and there were moments when he did come intimidatingly close to the real thing. But on the whole, I really just wanted to work hard to get the film out.”
We asked if it was much more difficult to make a film than the average person realizes. “It’s really difficult and also fantastically boring!” said Belton. “I mean the physical task. There is a brilliant scene in the film—it’s a roadblock where this character (Joe, played by Hugh Dancy) is called out. You can imagine a scene like that—it was shot in the middle of Rwanda. It was a scene we had to be very careful with, in terms of all the Rwandans involved with it. A lot of care was taken about it; after about five hours of Michael covering it with shots, even the Rwandans started to doze on the side of the street. It was worth it. The scene took a long time to shoot, like a day and a half. It was a moment where Michael could flex his creative muscles and say, ‘Well, this is what you need to make a really good scene, this is what you need to do. You need a day and a half and it’s going to be a grind actually. Sometimes it was that.”
We asked about Mr. Belton’s favorite scenes from the film. “That would be the roadblock just because it was something I went through myself. It was very accurate. I just think it’s a very compelling scene in terms of a young man confronting something quite beyond his comprehension. I personally have a very great affinity for the scene right at the very end where (actor) John Hurt and Hugh are kind of at the end of their tether really and Hugh’s back is to the audience and John is trying to give him some sense of hope. It’s a beautiful scene and it’s delicately and poignantly filmed and it always, always moves me. I absolutely feel the slump of Hugh Dancy’s shoulders.”
At this point the emphasis in our interview shifted to the director, Michael Caton-Jones, and we asked him about the challenges of directing a film which has almost continual action in addition to a large cast. He responded that the challenges were probably not what one might think. “The mechanics of filmmaking I’m quite at ease with because I’ve done it most of my adult life. The logistics are simply physical things to be overcome. The more challenging aspect of this film I think was really trying to find a balance between trying to make a film that is essentially for western consumption , and yet still maintain an honesty to what the Rwandans went through themselves. I felt a terribly large responsibility, which everyone does when they go to that country.”
“You have to get this story out truthfully and honestly,” Caton-Jones continued, his Scottish accent standing out. “You lift it somehow, as David had said, beyond the film just being about an historical event and it happened in a safe place long ago, far away. You’re treading both paths at the same time. You try to be historically accurate and you also try to explain the unexplainable to people, and that balance changed on a daily basis.”
We commented that the people of Rwanda no doubt were pleased that the story was told. “Absolutely they are,” he said. “I think the secret actually ended up being to concentrate on the things that were universal to humans. You can understand what it’s like to lose a parent or a brother if you’re Chinese, if you’re from Chile or from California. What I found was that the things that united us as human beings were far more prevalent than the things that were dividers.”
We asked a question related to this human factor. The character of Joe in the story makes a fateful decision near the end of the movie and we asked if Mr. Caton-Jones believed the decision was driven by wisdom or fear. “I think it’s a combination,” he replied. “We were very conscious not to fall into the trap of making someone a hero or villain. All of these things co-exist in any human being, you know—bravery and cowardice in the same moment. People do things for different reasons.”
“What we tried to do with Hugh’s character was to make him a reflection of every man. He was the guy who didn’t know much about where he was and what was going on. So he was asking the questions that would help us to find out what the answers were. At one point in the story it crosses over to turn the questions back at the audience, to ask ‘What would you do?’”
When I told Mr. Caton-Jones that I had asked myself if I would have stayed as long as Joe did, he replied, “I would have been out of there straightaway! I’m a sizeable coward,” he joked. “I would like to think that the better angels of nature would touch you and you might try to do the right thing.”
Another character sacrifices himself in the film, and Caton-Jones said he believed “that the answer really is different for every person.”
When asked about favorite scenes he echoed what the producer Belton had said, that he liked the roadblock scene a lot. “I think it was well written, well acted and well executed and I think it was, for all of us, the way it should and would be in the end. Personally, I’m very fond of the large crowd scene when they are actually leaving. There are many different aspects of it—when people come to the point of realization they’re going to die and not much is going to be able to stop that. It makes me think of 9/11. When people are in situations like that, facing their own mortality they don’t do what you would normally think; what happens is an expression of love. I think if people thought about what was happening there (Rwanda) in the same way as they did 9/11 it might make them understand the Rwandans behavior in some ways. Human beings are capable of the greatest and worst behavior,” he said.
As we wound up the interview, we asked Mr. Caton-Jones how he viewed the differences in the two versions of “Beyond the Gates,” the regular edition and the edited version. “I think the only difference is probably the exclusion of some swear words,” he replied. He added it was “a very conscious choice” to not graphically show all the violence but to make people aware of what was happening in the scenes. He said that although it is not “mindless entertainment,” he believes it is good for the human spirit to see this film.
When we commented that the edited version is a nice choice to have for families who want to see this story but not hear all the language in the regular edition, he agreed. “Absolutely,” he said. “I have no problem with that whatsoever.” This was nice to hear as some directors do not like any lines or language to be removed from their films.
Mr. Caton-Jones finished our interview by praising his cast, saying he had worked with John Hurt three times before and his character is portrayed as a man of experience in the film, and that he “likes the architecture of his face. And I think Hugh was a terrific foil for John.” He believes that John’s character in the film, a Catholic priest, is exemplified by experience and that Hugh Dancy brought a youthful boy-like quality to his characterization of Joe. “Simply by casting them, a lot of my work was done,” he said. Currently John Hurt is working on the fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” films, and Hugh Dancy is voicing Edgar Allan Poe in a project about the famous writer.
David Belton and Michael Caton-Jones have presented us with an edited version of this important story on DVD. It is a story they felt needed to be told. The story is, as they emphatically said, a universal one.
Read Dove’s Review of “Beyond the Gates (Unrated Version)“