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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:51 GMT
Bringing history to the big screen
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter

Terry George
Terry George claims the film industry avoids stories about Africa
Hotel Rwanda director Terry George has dedicated his career to bringing films about overlooked injustice and conflict to the world's attention.

Oscar-nominated for his screenplay In the Name of the Father in 1994, Belfast-born George received his second screenplay nomination last month for Hotel Rwanda.

The film relates how one man saved more than 1,200 refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"For better or worse Hotel Rwanda and films like The Killing Fields, Missing and Schindler's List become the popular version of history and therefore you want to try and get these stories out before they are buried," says George.

"The bulk of the Western world either didn't know about the genocide or actively avoided knowing about it. The key thing we hear when people emerge from the cinema is ' how did I not know that this was happening'," he adds.

Hotel Rwanda
Unpredictable weather added to a difficult shoot in South Africa

Despite only a limited release in the US in December 2004, Hotel Rwanda is doing well at the box office and has won critical acclaim for stars Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo.

"December is really the only time of the year a film like Hotel Rwanda can try to break out of the arthouse circuit," explains George.

"Because of the potential of putting on a tuxedo in February, studios are more willing to do the marketing."

"There's a perception that films with black actors, particularly about Africa and genocide are just not commercial entities, I think we've proven that wrong," says George, who raised the finance for the film independently.


In early 2003, George travelled to Rwanda with former hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina on whose life the film is based and who was returning to his homeland for the first time in almost a decade.

"It was a life-changing trip for me because I actually felt that I got as close to the effects of the genocide and the legacy of that as I possibly could," explains George.

"Even though it's an incredibly hospitable place to visit, below the surface you still feel an undercurrent."

"I don't think the attempts at reconciliation have gone far enough. This is not something that can be legislated away, it will need decades of work."

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

George is particularly preoccupied with the role of peacekeepers in global conflict and Hotel Rwanda clearly points a finger of blame at the United Nations.

"I think that peacemaking versus peacekeeping, along with Aids and terrorism, are the most important topics of our time - we've got to find an answer to them," he says.

"It's part of the theme in the film that life in Africa is worth less than life elsewhere. People perceive problems in Africa as unsolvable."


"The whole hypocrisy about Africa is brought into startling relief by the reaction to the tsunami disaster.

"The ability to mobilise worldwide, to pour funds and troops into South East Asia - which is a very noble and wonderful thing - is in stark contrast to what happened in Rwanda and what's happening in Darfur, Uganda and Congo."

"The will to mobilise in the same way is clearly not there."

But despite his desire to galvanise the international population into action, George chose not to depict in detail the full horror of the Rwandan genocide, which saw more than 800,000 people murdered by machete.

"If you get into depicting the genocide, it's going to be particularly gory and savage - and I just didn't want to get into prosthetics and buckets of fake blood."

Director Terry George (l) with Hotel Rwanda stars Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle
Stars Sophie Okonedo and Don Cheadle both received Oscar nods

"Secondly, I was acutely aware of the ratings situation in the US - I wanted the film to be accessible to high school teenagers and college students."

"Ultimately I'm telling the story of the heroism of one man, with the genocide as a backdrop. I felt I didn't need to dwell on the goriness of it, that I could suggest the horror by suspense."

George worked closely with his leading man Don Cheadle, working through the problems that arose in what proved difficult shoot in the townships of Johannesburg.

"If you have a vision in your head as a writer then the supreme luxury is to be able to direct it as well," says George, "provided you are willing to take on board the advice and the criticism of the team around you."

"Everybody thinks because the subject matter is so dark that films like Hotel Rwanda are hard to films to work on, but it's the exact opposite because the cast and crew are so motivated."

"For me, stories like this make it worth getting up in the morning."

Hotel Rwanda is released in London's West End on 25 February and across the UK on 4 March.

Watch a clip from Hotel Rwanda

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