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Hotel Rwanda director's view on the film

When the world closed its eyes,
he opened his arms…

Berlin Festival out of competition

Ten years ago, as the country of Rwanda descended into madness, one man made a promise to protect the family he loved – and ended up finding the courage to save over 1200 people. Hotel Rwanda tells the inspiring story of real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotel manager in Rwanda who used his courage and cunning to shelter over a thousand refugees from certain death.

While the rest of the world closed its eyes, Paul opened his heart and proved that one good man can make a difference.
United Artists is proud to present Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Nick Nolte in Hotel Rwanda, produced in association with Lions Gate Entertainment, a South Africa/United Kingdom/Italy co-production in association with The Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, a Miracle Pictures/Seamus production produced in association with Inside Track. Directed by Terry George from a script by Keir Pearson & Terry George, Hotel Rwanda was produced by A. Kitman Ho and Terry George; executive produced by Hal Sadoff, Martin F. Katz, Duncan Reid, and Sam Bhembe; co-executive produced by Keir Pearson and Nicolas Meyer; and co-produced by Bridget Pickering and Luigi Musini.
Hotel Rwanda’s behind-the-scenes crew includes director of photography Robert Fraisse, production designers Tony Burrough and Johnny Breedt, editor Naomi Geraghty, costume designer Ruy Filipe, and composer Andrea Guerra. Paul Rusesabagina served as a special consultant on the film.


"Three years ago Keir Peirson and I sat around a table with Paul Rusesabagina and listened as he told us his story. As he spoke, I did my best to hide two conflicting emotions: excitement and fear. Excitement because it was a perfect story to be told on film – a riveting political thriller, a deeply moving romance, and, most of all, a universal story of the triumph of a good man over evil. But fear was my predominant emotion. Fear of failure.
This was a story that had to be told, a story that would take cinema-goers around the world inside an event that, to all our great shame, we knew nothing about. But more than that, it would allow audiences to join in the love, the loss, the fear and the courage of a man who could have been any of us – if we ever could find that courage. I knew if we got this story right and got it made, it would have audiences from Peoria to Pretoria cheering for a real African hero who fought to save lives in a hell we would not dare to invent.
It was a very scary challenge for all of us involved with Hotel Rwanda, but that same challenge seemed to invigorate everyone who worked on the film, from our great cast and crew to the extras who rose at dawn in Johannesburg’s townships of Alexandra and Tembisi to join us in telling this enormous story. I’m proud of everyone who worked on this film and honored to have had the chance to tell the story of Paul, Tatiana, their family, and the people of Rwanda. I only hope to have done his heroic deeds justice."

Terry George

In January 2003, Terry George traveled to Rwanda to research the story and familiarize himself with the country. “I was also looking for answers,” says George. “Why the genocide? Why were so many people murdered in the space of 100 days, the fastest genocide in modern history? I also wanted to get a sense of the ordinary people of Rwanda and listen to their stories. George was accompanied on his visit by Paul Rusesabagina. It was the first time Paul had returned to Rwanda since the atrocities.
While in Rwanda they were able to travel, film the various locations and meet many of the people who took refuge at the Milles Collines hotel, including Odette Nyrimilimo, her husband Jean Baptiste Gacacere, and various members of Paul’s family. “It was a unique privilege to visit Rwanda with Paul,” says George, “to get a sense of the love and admiration people had for him. When we walked back into the Hotel Mille Collines, we met many of the survivors, cooks, cleaners, people Paul had sheltered. There was true joy in their eyes.”
Though many of George’s experiences in Rwanda were positive and he took inspiration from the many people he met, nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced when visiting one of the massacre sites. “We paid a visit to a former technical college at Marambi in Southern Rwanda,” says George. “I passed through rooms filled with the mummified skeletons of some of the 40,000 people who were massacred over four days in April 1994. As I listened to the sole survivor of that massacre tell of those days, I truly felt there was nothing more important in my life than to make this film.”

In visiting Rwanda, George was also able to see the incredible beauty of Rwanda and to investigate the politics of the extremist Hutu government, how their radio station RTML spewed forth hate and venom towards the Tutsi and how prejudice and fear drove ordinary people to believe that they had to massacre their neighbors in order to preserve their existence. “If I had to point to the one factor that sparked this genocide,” says George, “it was that radio station. We feature that radio station as a character in the film. I need people to understand the power of that propaganda.

When adapting Hotel Rwanda for the screen, it was important to George and Peirson that the film not be structured or perceived as a documentary, but rather an emotional distillation of the events and facts of Paul’s life that gives the audience an intimate, insider’s view of the events that took place at the Hotel Mille Collines at the time. “I find it most important to tell a story based on character and the evolution of that character, as well as the strengths of the character,” says George. “We have highlighted the particular events that formulated his triumph – his ability to succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. I enjoy my work best when it’s a project that will enlighten and hopefully invigorate people.”

Hotel Rwanda is, for the most part, a deeply personal story, and it’s uniquely focused on one building (the hotel), the people within it, and the relationships between them. The filmmakers deliberately avoided focusing on the overwhelming horror of the genocide itself. “When the film ventures outside into Kigali during the genocide, we tried to create this bizarre, surreal atmosphere, to let viewers feel the psychological terror of the genocide without going close on the slaughter.” Says Alex Ho, “This is a powerful human drama, not a horror story, and we believe it is important that the widest possible audience should see it.”


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