In 1994, some of the worst atrocities in history took place in Rwanda-yet the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. In only three months, almost one million people were brutally murdered during the Tutsi struggle with the Hutu militia. In the face of these unspeakable actions, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) summoned extraordinary courage to save the lives of over a thousand helpless refugees by granting them shelter in the four-star hotel he managed in Kigali.
Based on a true story. Co-starring Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix.
Directed by Terry George (Some Mother's Son)
Hotel Rwanda - by director/co-writer Terry George
For ten years now I've struggled to make a film about Africa-a political film that would have as its canvas the poverty, violence and anarchy that plagues the continent. Then I read a draft screenplay about a Rwandan called Paul Rusesabagina and knew this was the story I had to tell.
At that time Paul owned, and worked, a two-car taxi business in Brussels, Belgium. I flew to meet him. He's a charming man, precisely dressed and studied in his manner and conversation. In my hotel bar, he recommended I order a Belgian beer, "the best in the world" he said. He vouched for the hotel, which was well run, comfortable and had good staff. He knew what he was talking about because for most of his life Paul had worked in the hotel business. That night at dinner he recommended a certain French wine and was careful to instruct the waiter as to exactly how he wanted his beef cooked. Paul Rusesabagina has style, and that style, along with his cunning and courage, saved the lives of 1,268 helpless refugees, even though the entire world abandoned him in the midst of the fastest, most vicious genocide in modern history.
In April of 1994 Paul worked for the Sabena hotel chain in Kigali, Rwanda. Paul is Rwandan Hutu, his wife Tatiana is Tutsi, and through his work as manager at the four-star Milles Collines Hotel he fostered many contacts in diplomatic circles and among the Rwandan elite.
Then, on the night of April 6, Rwanda's Hutu president was assassinated when his jet was shot from the sky. Immediately the Hutu army and their militia set about systematically slaughtering the minority Tutsi.
Paul and Tatiana herded their family and neighbors into their van and car and fled to the hotel. Over the course of the next hundred days, Paul bribed, blackmailed and bluffed several senior Hutu army officials into protecting the hotel. Along the way he watched and listened as the West pulled out all their troops and insisted that the UN do the same. Paul did not loose a single refugee to the machetes of the militia even though they howled for his blood and at one point invaded the hotel looking for him.
After our Brussels meeting he agreed to let me try to sell his story as a feature film. I cautioned him that it would be tough to persuade financiers to back a film about the Rwandan genocide with a black lead. Over the next year I made the rounds of the Hollywood studios. I got no offers. Then Paul invited me to return with him on his first trip back to Rwanda since he left after the genocide.
On a warm sunny day, Paul, Tatiana and some of the survivors from the hotel took me to a place called Murambi, in Southern Rwanda, to a technical college high on a hill overlooking the lush green countryside. In April 1994, the Hutu mayor promised the Tutsi of the region protection if they gathered at that technical college. Forty thousand of them sought shelter and over the course of just four days they were slaughtered. Their bodies were thrown into pits and covered with lime. Somehow the lime preserved the bodies. Today scores of those bodies are laid out on tables in the rooms where they died. They are frozen in the last desperate moments of their agony, hands pleading, heads cradled by arms, skulls cracked open by merciless machetes. There's a babies room where tiny skeletons bear the same silent testimony to the horror.
A solitary tall man looks after that sacred place. He is one of only four survivors of the massacre. He has a hole the size of a nickel in his forehead where the execution bullet entered and failed. He led me to the lobby where there is a guest book. I signed it and a woman asked if I would like to make a contribution to the maintenance of the memorial site. I guess I had some two hundred dollars in my wallet. I gave her it all. She hugged me, almost in tears. She said it was the most money she could remember receiving. I was dumbfounded. If we have World Heritage Sites shouldn't we have World Humanity Sites, sacred places such as Tiananmen Square, Soweto, Auschwitz and Murambi?
I made a promise there to make our film no matter what. Three years later it is done. It is called Hotel Rwanda. It doesn't tell the story of Murambi. I deliberately steered away from the overwhelming horror and tried to focus on the incredible resilience and courage of Paul Rusesabagina so that people would be moved and encouraged by the triumph of this great good man over evil. Hotel Rwanda is not about the ghosts of Murambi but it is for them. Please go and see it.