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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February 2005, 10:23 GMT
The man behind Hotel Rwanda
Former Rwandan hotelier Paul Rusesabagina
Former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina inspired the film
Hotel Rwanda has picked up three nominations for this year's Academy Awards including best actor for Don Cheadle and best supporting actress for Britain's Sophie Okonedo.

Based on real events, it tells the story of how one man saved more than 1,200 Rwandan refugees at the height of tribal conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis in 1994.

It was a conflict to which the outside world turned a blind eye, allowing the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a 100-day slaughter.

"After the genocide I just wanted to tell the message to as many people as possible." Paul Rusesabagina - on whose life the film is based - said in an interview with the Washington Post.

In 1994, Mr Rusesabagina was the manager of an elegant colonial hotel in Rwanda's capital Kigali.

An influential, middle-class Hutu married to a Tutsi with whom he shared four children, his life changed dramatically following the assassination of Rwanda's president - and the outbreak of ethnic violence that followed.

Cheadle said the film "humanises something that is unfathomable"

Initially, Mr Rusesabagina focused on the survival of his own family, but as the massacre escalated the hotel became a refuge for fleeing Tutsis.

Using his influence to cajole, the hotel's alcohol supply to placate and one undiscovered phone line to communicate with the outside world, Mr Rusesabagina sheltered some 1,200 refugees from the bloodthirsty militia on his doorstep.

" I never thought I was being brave. I was just working as quickly as possible to avoid disaster," Mr Rusesabagina has told the Daily Telegraph.

With its echoes of Schindler's list, Mr Rusesabagina's story was picked up by film school graduate Keir Pearson in 1999, who travelled to Belgium to meet the former hotel manager where he now lives with his wife and family.

Two years later, in 2001, Mr Pearson approached Belfast-born director Terry George with Mr Rusesabagina's story.

Ordinary people swept up in political strife is the dominant theme in Mr George's previous works, who co-wrote in The Name of the Father and The Boxer, so it was no surprise that he was drawn to Mr Rusesabagina's story.

Sophie Okonedo
Clocking Off star Sophie Okonedo plays Mr Rusesabagina's wife

The tricky part was raising the cash. When Denzel Washington and Will Smith both rejected the script, Hollywood studios lost interest.

And eventual lead Don Cheadle, a regular collaborator on Steven Soderbergh films like Traffic and Ocean's Eleven, was not viewed as a bankable star.

"It's got three strikes - black leads, it's about Africa, and it's about genocide. Those three virtually rule it out for big studio consideration," Mr George told the Washington Post.

But he did not give up, eventually pulling together funding from Britain, Italy and the South African government. It took a further two years, and even at the last minute he and producer Alex Ho were subsiding pre-production with their own money.

Shooting began in South Africa in January 2004 after a flurry of faxes confirmed just in time that the $17m (9m) budget was in place. Mr Rusesabagina was on hand as a consultant throughout.

Hotel Rwanda
Nick Nolte plays one of the few UN officers who remained in Rwanda

The difficulties did not end there. A payroll truck was hijacked in Johannesburg suburbs and the extras rioted, but it was worth it.

The film and performances have been acclaimed by US critics, have earned three Oscar nominations and, in recent weeks, found a British distributor.

A testament to one man's courage, Mr Rusesabagina also hopes it could prevent similar bloodshed elsewhere.

He told the Los Angeles Times: "What happened in Rwanda keeps happening, in the Congo, in Burundi, in Darfur. Let's hope our movie is a wake-up call to the international community."

Hotel Rwanda is released across the UK on 4 March 2005

Country profile: Rwanda
09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles

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