The Roadblock Scene : Diary Entry from actor Hugh Dancy
One thing that MCJ and I discussed a lot while filming Shooting Dogs was the way in which the film's descent into horror and chaos is a very gradual one, one that is often suggested rather than shown, and therefore - since of course we were filming completely out of sequence - how careful we had to be during the shoot in judging the tone of each scene, even though in and of themselves they might be relatively inconsequential. In fact, rather than any particular moment of drama, the subtle developement in tone itself often seemed to be the point of a scene (along with smuggling in a few important historical facts about Rwanda to assist the audience's understanding). And since Joe is in many ways a conduit for the audience's response, I found myself marking out his own emotional journey in a similarly incremental way, charting what I hoped would be a delicate progression from innocence into naievety and ultimately into a kind of denial.
But the roadblock sequence is an exception. Joe - and the audience - brutally smash into the reality of what is happening on the streets of Rwanda outside the confines of the ETO and of his entrenched optimism, and so the two days we spent shooting it stand out in my mind. It felt different at the time (not least because of the heat trap that built up in the small valley we filmed in, and even a mini-tornado that ripped up the courtyard where we were eating lunch. I couldn't quite understand the level of hilarity that this caused until I saw Sande, one of the most charming and louche members of the crew, emerge sheepishly from under the table where he had flung himself).
However for all the unaccustomed violence of the scene, one image stands out in my mind - the silent look that Kennedy gave me. Kennedy played the Tutsi who is kneeling by the side of the road when we arrive and are forced to our knees, and although his subsequent death is one of the most shocking moments of the film, for me the look that him and Joe share resonates further. It is not pleading, not accepting, not despairing, not even quite fearful, and the way that it escapes or surpasses definition encapsulates the horror of the genocide that utterly defies our attempts to sum it up or pin it down. An amazing piece of acting I suppose, but I think more than that. I don't know Kennedy's own story, but for me that moment - along with other visceral moments in the scene, not least from actors playing militia members - is the most powerful demonstration of why we couldn't have made this film anywhere but in Rwanda, with Rwandans.
As a coda it is worth mentioning that Kennedy is the father of the boy who played one of Joe's pupils, and so between takes we stood happily discussing his son while other actors from the roadblock horsed around with the crew, posing for photos as Michael's 'bodyguard'. Joseph, the muscular militia member who throws me to the ground and thrusts a rifle in my face, eagerly encouraged me to visit the club where he worked as a bouncer. In a way these incongruities are the same as one finds on most filmsets - Guy Fawkes doing the crossword in the corner while someone touches up his wig etc etc - but the utter extremes of joy and tragedy, of people so warmly allowing us access to the most terrible period of their history, best represent what made our time working on this movie the most humbling, at times heartbreaking but ultimately rewarding experience of my life. Hugh Dancy