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I believe that Hotel Rwanda is a message of hope for Rwandese... that even in such madness, people can try to be correct towards each other



Feature by: Jack Foley

IT'S been over ten years since the horrific genocide in Rwanda - when almost one million people were cold-bloodedly murdered in just 100 days.

Yet only now is the world beginning to wake up to what happened, having stood by at the height of the bloodshed.

Several politicians have made the pilgrimage to Rwanda to ask survivors for their forgiveness, while the movie industry is set to unveil numerous projects based around some of the most remarkable - and horrifying - events of that time.

First up is the Oscar-nominated Hotel Rwanda which finds Don Cheadle playing real-life hero, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who single-handedly managed to save the lives of 1,268 people, providing refuge for countless Tutsis and Hutu sympathisers at the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali.

The bloodshed was the culmination of years of tribal warfare between the Hutus and the Tutsis, and was instigated by the Hutus using propaganda from their extremist radio station, RTML, which convinced many ordinary people that they had to massacre their neighbours in order to preserve their own existence.

Rusesabagina was a Hutu but his wife (played by Sophie Okonedo in the film) was a Tutsi and it was his love for his family that drove Paul to act so selflessly in the face of overwhelming odds.

Needless to say, in undertaking the task of relaying Paul's story, both Cheadle and the film's director, Terry George, felt a tremendous amount of responsibility to do it justice.

George, especially, admits to being concerned.

"It was mine to mess up," he told a recent London press conference.

"I guess that's the case in any film but with this one, having been to Rwanda, met the survivors, visited the particular genocide sites, I come away from Rwanda with an obligation, I felt, to make the film, and to get it out to the widest audience possible.

"So it was a joyous experience and a fearful experience shooting the film, and even more fearful marketing it, because when you know you've got something that works and conveys a message, as we did, coming out of Toronto, where the audience responded, then you're in the hands of the Hollywood marketing machine and that was the scariest proposition of all."

Indeed, George admitted to feeling a little deflated when the film failed to pick up an Oscar nomination for best film, despite attracting nods for best actor (Cheadle), best supporting actress (Okonedo) and best director (himself).

"I was elated for these guys and then, because of the nature of the picture and the need for the widest possible distribution, really bummed out when we didn't get a best picture nomination because it cut our distribution in the United States in half pretty much."

That said, the film is attracting widespread media interest because of the topic and the fact that it represents the first of several projects focusing on the genocide.

It also presents audiences with a living hero whose actions were every bit as important as those of another modern hero, Oskar Schindler, whose exploits provided the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's memorable Schindler's List.

For Hotel Rwanda's star, Don Cheadle, therefore, presenting an honest depiction of Paul Rusesabagina was crucial.

"I knew there was a certain amount of preparation that I had to do to understand the historical context and to really educate myself about the history.

"But a lot of what happened in the film, from a narrative point of view, the character didn't know, or the character couldn't prepare for, so I tried to just keep myself as ignorant as I could about situations so that I could really react and really respond truthfully to how a human being would respond in those moments."

The experience has clearly had a moving effect on the star.

"I've never been a part of a film before that sort of platforms into real issues and something that raises social awareness and has the potential to change things," he continued.

"I say potential because I don't really hold out a lot of hope that film can do that - I hold out hope, but don't really have high expectations."

For Rusesabagina himself, however, who also attended the London press conference, the mere fact that a film has been made about his exploits goes some way to realising his own ambitions for the future.

"I believe that Hotel Rwanda is a message of hope for Rwandese," he explained. "We can see that even in such madness, people can try to be correct towards each other. A Hutu and a Tutsi can live together without any problems and so far we haven't had any problems.

"It is an honour that at long last my message is going to be widespread."

It is now up to audiences across the UK to make sure that this message of hope - and the warning it provides for similar situations that are occurring in other parts of the world - does not go unheeded.

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