Hero Saves Lives In Hotel Rwanda
By Glenn Bossik 1/31/05
The focus of the film, Hotel Rwanda, is the character, Paul Rusesabagina
, a hotel manager who uses his skills as a businessman and his love of family to save the lives of 1,268 people during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
In 1994, two tribes vied for power in Rwanda—the Hutu and the Tutsi. Hutu extremists started a genocidal attack against Tutsi citizens. The attack lasted 100 days, and nearly one million Tutsi citizens were massacred.
But, during those days of horror, one man made a difference—Paul Rusesabagina. He hid 1,268 political refugees in the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda.
Don Cheadle, the actor who plays Paul in the film, describes Paul as a person whose character evolved during that crisis. "He starts off being very concerned about his family, but ends up wanting to help others," says Cheadle.
Cheadle views the screenplay as his main source of information for understanding Paul's character.
"The story is structured very well in terms of the arcs of all these characters and the progression of the story," he says. "We tried to adhere to that."
Sophie Okonedo, the actress who plays Paul's wife, Tatiana, in the film, expresses a similar admiration for the screenplay. She says, "When I first read the script, I was gripped… It says a lot
about the human spirit, about living in a traumatic situation, … about love."
At the beginning of the film, Paul bribes a general and a local businessman to ensure that the Hotel
Mille Collines, which he manages, runs smoothly and has a steady supply of excellent food and liquor for the wealthy guests. Paul wants to provide a good life for his family by achieving success as a hotel manager.
Later, he hides many Tutsi refugees in the hotel he manages and bribes the businessman and general in order to save the refugees from the genocidal massacre underway.
Faced with extraordinary circumstances, Paul Rusesabagina undergoes a psychological change that enables him to save people from certain death.
Writer/Director Terry George made Hotel Rwanda a character-driven film. George says, "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." George co-wrote the screenplay with Keir Pearson. Three years ago,
both men met with Paul Rusesabagina.
Terry George says, "I flew to Belgium and met Paul and learned of his life: how he became a hotelier, how he rose through the ranks of employees in the various Sabena hotels he worked in,
and how he ended up at the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali." He adds that "this was a story that had to be told…"
The most shocking revelation in Hotel Rwanda is that not one country in the entire world sent
soldiers to stop the genocide.
A TV news reporter named Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) captures footage of the massacre on video. In
one poignant scene in the film, Jack tells Paul, "If people see this [video footage], they'll say: 'Oh, my God. That's horrible.' Then they'll go on eating their dinners." This scene reveals the world's
indifference to the Rwandan tragedy.
Actor Nick Nolte plays Colonel Oliver, a United Nations military officer who is horrified by the
massacre but is unable to provide adequate protection for the refugees being housed in the Hotel Mille Collines. Nolte says, "Colonel Oliver quickly learns that his hands are tied by unsympathetic
bureaucrats at the UN and around the world."
When audiences see Hotel Rwanda, they will learn that the world turned its back on the people of
Rwanda. They will also learn that Paul Rusesabagina, an ordinary man, risked his own life to save many of his fellow Rwandan citizens.